Ladies, there’s now another reason to brush and floss regularly. In addition to maintaining a beautiful smile and avoiding painful (and potentially costly) dental problems, your periodontal health may be linked to more serious illnesses. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that gum disease may lead to an earlier death in older women.
The researchers’ background information found that of adults 60 years of age and older, almost two-thirds have gum disease. One-third of American adults in that age group experience complete tooth loss, which very often is the result of gum disease. To examine a possible connection between gum disease and an earlier death, they carried out a study of 57,001 women who were 55 or older. Over the course of almost 7 years, 3,816 of the women died, with 3,589 of the deaths attributed to heart disease. It was shown that women with a history of periodontal disease had a 12 percent higher risk of dying. Those with complete tooth loss had a 17 percent higher risk of death. This was true regardless of the cause of death. It was also found that women who had lost teeth tended to be older, were at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, were less educated and did not see a dentist as often as women who had not lost their teeth.
Michael J. LaMonte, Ph.D., M.P.H., a professor and researcher in the University at Buffalo’s Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, authored the study. LaMonte stated that in addition to having a direct impact on chewing and other oral functions, gum disease seemed to be related to chronic diseases that are a result of aging. He also concluded that post-menopausal women may have a higher risk of mortality due to their oral health, suggesting the need for more diligent oral care and more thorough dental screenings. However, he also pointed out that his team’s study did not directly examine the result of improved dental care on the women’s health outcomes, and that further study was needed before they could make a direct link.
This is not the first time that periodontal disease has been linked to serious illnesses. The American Academy of Periodontology states that research has shown an association between gum disease and diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, respiratory disease and cancer. It was originally thought that the key factor was bacteria, but recently it has been found that inflammation is the real culprit. If this proves to be true, then treating inflammation may be effective in managing periodontal issues as well as other chronic inflammatory illnesses. Diabetics are especially susceptible to periodontal disease, as they are more likely than others to contract infections of all kinds. Gum disease can in turn increase blood sugar and cause further complications.
These findings strongly suggest that taking better care of one’s teeth and gums, especially as you get older, can improve one’s overall health. And, although this recent study was conducted on women, men should pay close attention, too!