Some research suggests that losing two or more teeth in middle age can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. This finding comes from a study by investigators at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Preliminary results presented at an American Heart Association meeting in March 2018 showed that adults between the ages of 45 and 69 who had 25 to 32 natural teeth at the start of the study and then lost two or more teeth had a risk of heart disease 23 percent higher than those of the same age who hadn’t lost any teeth.
None of the subjects had cardiovascular disease when the study began. At the outset, they reported on the number of natural teeth they had and disclosed how many they had lost during the previous eight years. During the next 12 to 18 years, they were monitored for development of cardiovascular disease. The researchers noted that the increased risk linked to tooth loss occurred regardless of the quality of the participants’ diets, their physical activity, body weight, or presence of other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Those who had lost two teeth, regardless of their number of natural teeth at the study’s start, had a 16 percent greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those who had not. Those with fewer than 17 natural teeth at the start of the study were 25 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. No notable increase in risk was seen in participants who reported losing only one tooth during the 12 to 18 years.
Study author, Lu Qi, M.D., Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at Tulane, noted that most of the earlier research on the link between dental health and cardiovascular disease looked at cumulative tooth loss over a lifetime, which often includes teeth lost in childhood due to cavities, trauma and orthodontic procedures. Tooth loss in middle age is more likely related to inflammation, diabetes, smoking, and poor diet.
Research published in 2005 in the American Heart Association journal Circulation confirmed what was then a long-suspected connection between gum disease and heart disease. It found that people with the highest levels of the bacteria that cause gum disease also had the worst atherosclerosis, the arterial disease that often leads to heart attacks and strokes. Gum disease is associated with chronic infection; if the responsible bacteria aren’t eliminated or reduced, the constant inflammation they cause results in gradual thickening of artery walls throughout the body.
To avoid tooth loss as well as gum disease, be sure to have regular dental checkups so that any problems can be identified and treated promptly. And, of course, brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily to prevent the buildup of small amounts of food that attract and nourish bacteria.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Lu Qi et al, “Middle-aged tooth loss linked to increased coronary heart disease risk.” Presentation at the American Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2018, March 21, 2018.