It’s never fun to lose a tooth. Though extraction may relieve your pain, no one enjoys being at the end of all options.
Losing a tooth is hard – really hard. The resulting gap can be unsightly. Your ability to chew food may change. Over time, your teeth may shift, drifting toward the empty space. Sure, you can replace that missing tooth, but even the best restoration in the world can never be as good as your natural tooth. And replacing a tooth can be costly.
Yes, losing a tooth messes with your emotions, your ability to function, and your pocketbook. But there’s something else missing teeth can mess with: your heart.
Two recent studies point to a similar conclusion: Missing teeth may predict cardiovascular events and be associated with poor outcomes in stable coronary heart disease.
For the first study, published in the Journal of Dental Research, 8446 people were surveyed with a 13 year follow up. Dental status was recorded at baseline. The subjects were then followed and information on heart attack and stroke, diabetes and death were obtained and evaluated to determine the effect, if any, of missing teeth on such incidents.
Having 5 or more teeth missing was associated with 60% to 140% increased hazard for incident coronary heart disease events and acute myocardial infarction. Incident cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and death of any cause were associated with 9 or more missing teeth.
A second study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, involved 15,456 patients from 39 countries with stable coronary heart disease. All patients reported the number of missing teeth at the beginning of the study and were followed for 3.7 years. The authors found that the more missing teeth, the greater the risk of cardiovascular problems and death – independent of cardiovascular risk factors and socioeconomic status.
What’s the take-home from this grim bit of news?
While we tend not to think of it this way, both gum disease and cavities are infections. If you have a cavity, the infection starts in your tooth. At first, you might not notice, but left untreated, your cavity will grow and may affect the pulp of your tooth. The pulp is its living blood supply. If infection reaches this inner layer, your tooth may enter a dying phase.
This may be one reason you may need an extraction.
With gum disease, the soft tissue or bone around your tooth has an infection. The bone supports your tooth structurally. The tissue, like a tight turtleneck around your teeth, protects them from harmful bacteria. When your tissue becomes lax, it develops pockets – areas that no longer fit snugly around the tooth. Bacteria takes advantage of this and dive in deeper and deeper, eventually infecting the bone structure, as well as the soft tissue. As the level of infection increases, it can cause sensitivity and bleeding. Your teeth may begin to loosen in their sockets.
This is another reason you may need an extraction.
You already know plaque is associated with diseases of inflammation throughout the body, but these studies indicate that tooth loss may, at some point, determine your health fate.
On the up side, knowing this gives you a chance to change course if you need to. Empowered with this information, you could steer right into a healthy cycle of periodic oral exams and hygiene visits. You could make sure you and your family are doing everything you can to effectively clean your teeth.
Good oral hygiene can prevent infection, lower your risk of tooth loss and maybe, just maybe, prevent a broken heart.
Image by Carsten ten Brink