Losing more than five teeth by the age of 65 could be a sign of some significant health issues, according to researchers with the Oral Health Foundation.
In a study published in Periodontology 2000, researchers suggested that life expectancy can be directly linked to the mouth. The study authors said a heightened risk of death can be associated with those who have lost five or more teeth by age 65.
Those who retained their teeth by age 74 were considered more likely to live to be 100, the study said. Nigel Carter, chief executive with the Oral Health Foundation, said oral health could tell a larger story.
“There are many reasons why somebody can lose their teeth, it could be down to trauma, smoking or just a continued poor oral health routine. But it can also be related to gum disease which is closely linked to health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes,” Carter told Daily Mail. “What this piece of research suggests is that tooth loss can often be a signifier of a poor quality of other areas of a person’s lifestyle and therefore a higher likelihood of someone having health issues because of this.”
Oral hygiene methods and trauma were listed as contributing factors to tooth loss. The authors also included health status, socioeconomic status and individual preferences as other factors.
“Importantly it also shows that diseases associated with tooth loss, such as gum disease, can also contribute to an increased risk of life limiting diseases,” Carter said. “It is very evident that what is going on in our mouths can really be a useful window to our overall health.”
For older adults, the links between oral health and overall well-being could be especially evident, since aging comes with multiple risk factors for tooth loss. The information is significant, as many adults over the age of 65 in the U.S. don’t have access to third-party supported dental services and private dental insurance is uncommon for many older adults, the authors wrote.
Medicare only covers dental treatments for older adults when considered ‘medically necessary,’ which is generally associated with oral cancer treatments or treatments related to other systemic diseases, the authors said.
“It is therefore vital that we take proper care of our mouth and pay close attention to what is happening as it could be a sign of something more serious,” Carter said.
The research associated mouth health with other serious health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Oral and other health problems can contribute to depression, social isolation and impaired nutritional status, the authors wrote.
“Tooth loss itself comes with its own problems, it can lead to issues with eating and therefore a person’s ongoing nutrition and even create problems with their ability to communicate,” Carter said. “We welcome more research into this matter as it may be a way to detect and prevent diseases related to tooth loss and other serious systemic diseases.”
The Oral Health Foundation is a non-profit organization that works closely with European governments, dental and health professionals, manufacturers, and national and local agencies to address the inequalities that exist in oral health.