We have more and more evidence that the way to your heart may not be through your stomach, but it is definitely through your mouth. Now a new study has made a very specific link: your tooth loss during middle age is tied to an increased risk of heart disease.
This reminds us of the holistic dentistry principle: oral health is closely linked to your overall health, and that changes in your oral health can cause many changes through the body.
Charting Tooth Loss and Heart Risk
For this study, researchers looked at adults age 45-69 who didn’t have heart disease at the beginning of the study. These people reported their number of teeth, then were given a questionnaire where they talked about tooth loss in the eight years prior.
Researchers found that people who started the study with 25 to 32 teeth and lost two or more teeth had a 23% higher risk of heart disease. Those who had fewer than 17 teeth at the start of the study had a similarly elevated risk, about 25% higher than those with no tooth loss. Loss of one tooth was not associated with higher heart risk.
These risk levels are despite the presence of other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes.
What’s the Link?
Although this study doesn’t give us clear evidence of the specific links between tooth loss and heart disease, the authors talked about some of the possible links. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among American adults, so it’s commonly supposed to be the primary cause. It leads to systemic inflammation, which can be bad for the body, and has been linked to increased heart disease risk.
Gum disease may also contribute to heart disease by changing the body’s microbiome, which can have a profound impact on our overall health.
The problem might also be related to diet. People who have diets that are high in sugar may be at increased risk for both tooth loss and heart disease. On the other hand, once people lose teeth, especially those who lose multiple teeth, might change their diet, eating more processed foods and fewer healthy fruits and vegetables.
Prevention and Restoration Can Both Help
Of course, it’s most important to protect your teeth from disease, decay, and loss. Regular dental checkups can help you keep your teeth healthy–and keep them in your mouth!
But tooth loss doesn’t have to be the end of the story, either. Restoring lost teeth can help you reverse some of the effects. It’s especially important to make sure that tooth replacement also restores your ability to eat a healthy diet. This means choosing functional tooth replacements, such as dental implants. With dental implants, you can keep eating all the foods that your body needs to stay healthy, including fruits, vegetables, and meats that aren’t too heavily processed.