By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For decades, doctors have linked gum disease to heart disease, but now an expert panel says there is no proof that one causes the other.

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Nidah Barber was concerned when she first learned she had gum disease.

“It was scary, because you know, I’m like, ‘Well, I could have gingivitis and actually have a heart problem, or it could lead to something, you know, major in my health,’” said Nidah.

For years, studies have suggested that bacteria in the mouth can get into the bloodstream and cause heart problems. But a new statement from the American Heart Association says there is no proof gum disease causes heart disease or stroke.

“The data that’s available right now would suggest there’s no direct relationship there,” said Peter Lockhart, the statement author.

After reviewing hundreds of studies, researchers also say that treating gum disease, including by brushing and flossing, does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Experts say the same risk factors can cause both diseases, so many people who smoke or have diabetes or high blood pressure can suffer gum and heart problems.

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Dentists like Salomon Maya say more research is needed, and that taking care of your mouth is still key.

“One thing that I believe in is that oral health is really an indicator of your general health,” said Dr. Maya.

Meanwhile, Nidah is trying to keep her gum disease under control.

“I floss in the car. There’s floss in my purse,” she explained.

And she sees her dentist every three months for cleanings.

An American Heart Association expert committee made up of cardiologists, dentists and infectious disease specialists published today’s statement in the journal Circulation.

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Rally For Schools On Rain Or Shine In Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and city schools CEO Andres Alonso are scheduled to rally with students and parents against spending reductions for schools.

The rally is set for Thursday evening in Annapolis.

The current proposed state budget reduces $94 million for education statewide. Baltimore city would lose about $15 million of that.

Alvin Thornton, who chaired a commission on Maryland school funding reforms, is scheduled to speak at the rally.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)