Healthy Gums May Signal a Longer Life

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Older women with gum disease or tooth loss are at increased risk of dying early, researchers report.

Scientists retrospectively studied 57,001 women over 55 who were free of heart disease and enrolled in a large health study from 1993 through 1998. They followed them for an average of seven years.

The study, in the Journal of the American Heart Association, controlled for many factors, including age, smoking, education level, body mass index, physical activity and history of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The researchers found that women who were toothless and who had had periodontal disease were at 46 percent higher risk for death from any cause than those without these dental problems. Women with toothlessness alone were at 12 percent greater risk for death, and those with periodontal disease alone at 11 percent greater risk.

This was an observational study so it cannot determine cause and effect, but the data “do suggest that women who have lost their teeth have a higher risk for death, even at later ages in life,” said the lead author, Michael J. LaMonte, an epidemiologist at the University at Buffalo. “Oral screening in midlife may be just as important as screening for cholesterol, high blood pressure or glucose tolerance.”