Losing Teeth in Middle Age Associated With Heart Trouble

Heart Disease

Losing a tooth is more than just a cosmetic issue, especially if you’ve seen enough trips around the sun to qualify as middle-aged. In addition to that unsightly vacancy, tooth loss in middle age has been linked to heart disease. Wait, what?!? (cue the abrupt scratch of a record needle across your favorite garage sale vinyl).

Let’s back up a minute and look at the facts.

Uncovering a correlation
Medical researchers first examined the possibility of links between tooth loss and heart disease in a 2005 study. The data set included nearly 42,000 American adults between the ages of 40 and 79 from 22 states and the District of Columbia, surveyed over a three-year period. This study found a direct relationship between the prevalence of tooth loss and the self-reported presence of heart disease--the more teeth that were missing the more likely the respondent was to have heart disease. Here’s what they found:

  • Toothless adults were most at risk, with 11.5 percent reporting heart-health problems 
  • 10.2 percent of those who'd lost 6 to 31 teeth had some form of heart disease
  • In those with 1 to 5 missing teeth, heart disease was reported in 6.2 percent of the group

Confirming the link
A 2018 study by researchers at Tulane and Harvard Universities revealed an even more definitive link between tooth loss and cardiovascular disease. The tooth loss they monitored occurred only during middle age, whereas the research study cited above included respondents who’d lost teeth earlier in life. Participants were between 45 and 69, and monitored for tooth loss over an eight-year period. Researchers then looked at the incidence of cardiovascular disease among people with no tooth loss, one tooth lost, and two or more teeth lost over 12-18 years.

Results took into account the number of teeth that participants had at the beginning of the eight-year period, and broke down as follows:
  • Those with 25-32 natural teeth at the start and who lost two or more teeth within the study period had a 23 percent increased risk of heart disease 
  • Those with fewer than 17 natural teeth at the study's start were 25 percent more likely to suffer from heart health problems
  • When looking at all study participants, regardless of the number of teeth they had at the start, risk for heart disease increased 16 percent for those who lost two or more teeth
  • Individuals who lost only one tooth during the eight-year period had no increase in their chance of heart disease. 
These findings took into account other risk factors such as diet quality, physical activity, and body weight, as well as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Dr. Lu Qi, study author and epidemiology professor at Tulane, elaborated on the study's findings: "Our findings suggest that middle-aged adults who have lost two or more teeth in the recent past could be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease," Qi said, according to the AHA. "That's regardless of the number of natural teeth a person has as a middle-aged adult, or whether they have traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as poor diet or high blood pressure."

Minimizing your risk  
Poor oral hygiene can lead to a buildup of bacteria and inflammation in your mouth, which is often at the root of tooth loss. That bacteria can also break away and enter your bloodstream, and settle in and around your heart, causing inflammation. And inflammation has been linked to heart disease.  

You know that great oral health begins with brushing twice a day, floss once a day, and seeing your dentist regularly. Now you know it can help keep your heart healthy too. Haven’t seen your dentist in a while? Schedule an appointment today? Your heart may benefit just as much as your mouth.

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