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May 10, 2017

Gum Disease and Tooth Loss Linked to Heart Risks in Older Women

Maintaining healthy gums may help reduce risk for heart disease.

Maintaining healthy gums may help reduce risk for heart disease, based on a recent study that linked gum disease and tooth loss to increased risk for heart events and death in older women.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, this study looked at the association between periodontitis and heart disease in women.

Periodontitis is an advanced stage of gum disease that causes chronic inflammation of the gums. It affects nearly half of Americans over 30, and as it progresses, can cause complete tooth loss. Due to the inflammatory properties of gum disease, many studies have linked gum disease to increased heart risks. However, few studies have specifically looked at the effects of gum disease in older women, among whom gum disease is especially common.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the Women’s Health Initiative, which was launched in 1993 to study the prevention of heart disease and cancer in postmenopausal women. The study tracked the health of 57,000 U.S. women between the ages of 55 and 89, all of who were free of heart disease and gum disease at the start of the study. The average age of participants was 68.

During the study period, participants completed questionnaires about their oral health. Questionnaires included information on both gum disease and complete tooth loss, known as edentulism. Overall, 26% of participants had gum disease and 6% had complete tooth loss.

After following participants for nearly seven years, researchers found that women with gum disease had 17% greater risk of death than those without. Complete tooth loss was also associated with 42% greater risk for heart events and 47% greater risk of death.

According to authors, findings help strengthen the connection between oral health and heart disease. Many studies have linked gum disease to increased cardiovascular risk, and this study confirms the association in older women. The hope is that this growing body of evidence will help motivate adults to improve both their oral and heart health.

Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the United States. There are many ways to help reduce risk for heart disease, like eating healthy and staying active. However, experts are always looking for new ways to help further reduce cardiovascular risk. It’s possible that something as simple as taking care of your teeth and gums may promote heart health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the connection between gum disease and heart disease?
  • It’s not completely clear. Scientists don’t know whether gum disease actually causes cardiovascular disease. It’s possible that something else is causing both problems. One theory is that bacteria from diseased gums invade the artery wall and cause inflammation to erupt there too. The bacteria may also provoke the body to release several chemicals that cause inflammation in the arteries.
  • How does inflammation increase cardiovascular risk?

  • The exact role that inflammation plays in cardiovascular health remains unclear. However, experts suggest that the build-up of plaque in the arteries may cause inflammation, and as the body continually attacks these fatty deposits, it can wear the body down and/or cause blood clots—one of the most common causes of heart attack and stroke.

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