THURSDAY, March 7 (HealthDay News) -- For adults, losing teeth is bad enough, but tooth loss is also associated with several risk factors for heart disease, a large international study suggests.
These heart disease-related risk factors include diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and smoking.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from nearly 16,000 people in 39 countries who provided information about their remaining number of teeth and the frequency of gum bleeds. About 40 percent of the participants had fewer than 15 teeth and 16 percent had no teeth, while 25 percent reported gum bleeds.
For every decrease in the number of teeth, there was an increase in the levels of a harmful enzyme that promotes inflammation and hardening of the arteries. The study authors also noted that along with fewer teeth came increases in other heart disease risk markers, including "bad" LDL cholesterol levels and higher blood sugar, blood pressure and waist size.
People with fewer teeth were also more likely to have diabetes, with the risk increasing 11 percent for every significant decrease in the number of teeth, the investigators found.
Being a current or former smoker was also linked to tooth loss, according to the study scheduled for presentation Saturday at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology (ACC), in San Francisco.
Gum bleeds were associated with higher levels of bad cholesterol and blood pressure.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The researchers added that it is still unclear what is behind the association between tooth loss, gum health and heart health.
"Whether periodontal disease actually causes coronary heart disease remains to be shown. It could be that the two conditions share common risk factors independently," Dr. Ola Vedin, from the department of medical sciences at Uppsala University in Sweden, said in an ACC news release. "Those who believe that a causal relationship exists propose several theories, including systemic inflammation, the presence of bacteria in the blood from infected teeth and bacteria invading coronary plaques."
The U.S. National Institutes of Health outlines steps you can take to reduce heart risks.
SOURCE: American College of Cardiology, news release, March 7, 2013
-- Robert Preidt
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