Practicing good oral hygiene will lower your risk of gum disease, but it probably won't help your heart, according to a report published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Contrary to previous research that linked periodontitis and chronic coronary heart disease, University of Washington scientists say their findings failed to reveal any meaningful connection between the two.

None of the earlier studies noting a correlation between the conditions could prove cause and effect, which in fairness is not an easy thing to do. Complicating the matter is the fact that the two diseases share the same risk factors--smoking, obesity and increasing age, to name a few. "Trying to figure out if periodontal disease actually causes heart disease, with the presence of all these shared risk factors, is very difficult," team member Timothy A. DeRouen said.

This time, the researchers turned to a federal database that contained medical profiles of more than 8,000 people--none of whom had any apparent heart disease at the onset of the study--whose health was then followed for 20 years. The data included detailed diagnoses of the subjects' gums and teeth, as well as other information on smoking habits and physical activity. After accounting for all of these variables, only a slight association between periodontal disease and subsequent heart disease remained. "There is no evidence that any dental treatment will have a positive impact on chronic coronary heart disease," asserts Philippe Hujoel, an author on the JAMA paper. "Our analysis suggests that the association is either nonexistent or of such small size that it will be very difficult to come up with convincing evidence."