Does oral health hold the key to longer life? According to a new study, gum disease and tooth loss is connected to an increased risk of premature death in women.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, explored the connection between gum disease and early death in older women. Periodontitis and edentulism were both connected, at alarming rates, to early death in these subjects. Periodontitis is a gum infection that destroys the soft tissue surrounding the teeth. This can, of course, lead to edentulism, which is the loss of teeth.
The subjects who suffered from periodontitis showed a 12 percent higher risk of premature death, and those who lost teeth at any point were 17 percent more likely to die early. These startling statistics show the importance of oral health on a person’s longevity and well being.
Over 57,000 women were analyzed as part of this research, with data from over 40 health centers in the United States. The women were between the ages of 50 and 79, with their health data gathered from 1993 to 1998. The average age was 68, and half of them were either overweight or obese.
After six years, they followed up with these women to discover that there had been over 3,500 deaths from cardiovascular disease and over 3,800 deaths total. In the women who showed a history of gum disease, there was a 12 percent chance that they would die prematurely. In those who lost all of their natural teeth, not only was there a 17 percent chance of premature death, but also a commonality in which these women were less educated and visited their dentists less.
Although there have been studies in the past examining oral health and risk of death, there is also no direct cause found to tie the two together. Gum disease and tooth loss does not necessarily cause premature death, but it is related in some way.
“It is true that older individuals do present with tooth inflammation and tooth loss; but these same individuals also carry an unrelated overall risk of heart disease due to typical cardiovascular disease risk factors,” said Dr. Satjit Bhusri, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. Bhusri was not directly involved in the study but supports the findings, saying that this study “suggests gum disease and tooth loss is a marker for overall lack of health and, as a result, death.”
Cardiovascular disease is currently the leading cause of death in women in the U.S., affecting over 20 percent of all women. While gum disease and heart disease do not have a visible connection, there is a higher rate of cardiovascular illness in those women who did report having periodontitis. If making oral health a priority can lessen these risks later on, then it is important to do so.
Dr. Michael LaMonte, author of the study, maintains that “oral health should be another measure that we do more consistent screening on to avoid health consequences later in life.”