Healthy Gums May Signal a Longer Life

Mar 30, 2017 · 36 comments
MainLaw (Maine)
It might be interesting to know what the relationship is between socioeconomic status and loss of teeth. I suspect it's high. Just further evidence that lack of money is frequently responsible for poor health. (No surprise there.) Unfortunately, Medicare has never paid for dentists services Under the current regime, we'll be lucky of Medicare pays or anything -- other than maybe our funerals.
Don Krueger (New York City)
Frankly I'm confused with the data. It says women with gum disease are at a 46 percent higher risk of death. My understanding is that nobody beats the grim reaper. The risk of death for everyone is 100 percent... we all face those same odds
Viktor prizgintas (Central Valley, NY)
So since dental and gum care are so significant in overall health, why does health insurance stop at the neck?
Len (Pennsylvania)
And. . . healthy gums also indicate better heart health. . .
Jennifer (Massachusetts)
My grandmother had dentures and lived to 97.
Maxine Susseles (Ny)
My mom is 93 had gum disease and is still going strong. Clearly a medical anomaly or maybe there is no correlation between the presence or absence of gum disease and longevity.

But for those who perpetually seek the fountain of youth I strongly suggest you start flossing. And if you really want to increase your chances of living to the ripe old age of whatever you consider the ripe old age invest in an oral irrigator....

MAXINE Susseles
Hartsdale NY
NEG (Forest Hills, New York)
My mom lived until 99 1/2. When a new doctor asked her what she attributed to her longevity, she immediately replied "I have all my teeth."
Catharine (Philadelphia)
Meaningless data. Gives us relative difference but where are the raw numbers?
Morten Bo Johansen (Denmark)
I went to the dentist the other day and he told me that my teeth were fine, but unfortunately my gums had to go!
treabeton (new hartford, ny)
In related news, women who were toothless were also reported to be unlucky in love.
treabeton (new hartford, ny)
Last night this comment seemed funny to me. This morning, upon reflection, it looks mean-spirited and we have too much of that now. Sorry.
Bob (Louisville, KY)
I use a small, inexpensive "Gum" brand conical brush on a handle to reach areas between teeth with each brushing. Surprising what comes out from between teeth even after brushing.
Stephen Z. Wolner DDS (Bronx, NY 10471)
Periodontal disease is a chronic infection of gum tissue accompanied by bone loss around teeth. It is caused by the presence of plaque or biofilm - a sticky substance that is made up of bacteria, dead tissue cells and food particles. Pathological bacteria are forced into our bloodstream and many studies have shown that it can have negative effects on many organs in our body. Some people are genetically immune to the effects of these bacteria but most of us are not. We have to mechanically or chemically reduce these bacteria to a safe level. Brushing our teeth thoroughly, on a daily basis, is a good way of mechanically removing the biofilm. Using toothpaste is the equivalent to using soap on our body. Additionally, biofilm must be reduced between teeth where a toothbrush cannot reach. The use of floss, water irrigators or interdental brushes must be used. Many chemicals have been claimed to help reduce the destructive biofilm. In any event, left alone, these bacteria recolonize to unhealthy levels within 2-3 weeks. The protocol today seems to be extraction with implant replacement. There is a huge disconnect between dental research and clinical practice. Using studies going back to the 1970's, it is possible to prevent and reverse periodontal disease in very efficient and cost effective ways without the use of surgery. This reduces trauma, cost, saves teeth and, hopefully, increases longevity.
anon (anon)
A similar research study found a significant correlation with peridontal disease and Alzheimer's. Cause - effect undetermined.
Hillary Rettig (Kalamazoo, MI)
As I got older my gums just kept getting worse. I was flossing 3x a day but they were still puffy and inflamed, and the dentist didn't have a solution. Then I read about how swishing with cold green tea + powered Indian gooseberry (AKA "amla" and cheap) kills plaque germs like nothing else. This works amazingly well! Not only are my gums healed but my teeth are less temperature sensitive. And it's cheap, non-chemically, and tastes good! More info (and scientific cites) here:
svrw (Washington, DC)
No one has mentioned the possibility that good gums, good health and longevity may in considerable part be due to good genes rather than good habits.
Marina (Southern California)
Believe me there is much to be said for genetics. My mother had lost all her teeth before she was 30. My teeth require an immense amount of care, and I do it all, but I still develop issues. I brush, I floss (with more than one type of floss, to catch different parts of the mouth; I use a rubber tip.). I have an implant, fixed bridges, have had extractions, root canals, etc. etc. My husband, OTOH, brushes 2X a day, never flosses, and maybe gets two cleanings a year (but maybe only one) and there is NEVER ANY plaque to speak of. (He's 75.) I think he has one crown and two fillings. Well, at least one of us doesn't have big dental bills.
Gwenn Marie (Annapolis, Maryland)
Taking care of my oral health is a big investment of time, but one that I'm more than willing to make-- every day. I use a little interdental brush by Curaprox (expensive!) to gently and thoroughly clean between teeth at the gum line, then floss, then brush--without toothpaste. Haven't used toothpaste in years, or one of those fancy electronic brushes. Takes about 20 minutes. Low carb/sugar diet, lots of veggies and fruits. At 70, I'm in excellent health and my hygienist beams when she sees me because I'm such an easy appointment. I'm also highly privileged. Oral health is a key health metric, but one that seems a "first world indulgence."
Jackson (Midwest)
Genes and family longevity may trump everything.

My mother? False teeth since 65, smoked for 20 years, had high cholesterol. Lived to 98. Her sister? 100. My aunt? 100. My father, all teeth intact, made it to 81. I pray I inherited my mother's genes.
Bello (western Mass)
My guess is that people who neglect their teeth are also less inclined to exercise and maintain a healthy diet.
Counter Measures (Old Borough Park, NY)
My mom made it to a rather vigorous one hundred and one. And she had false teeth, for as long as I can remember, but certainly since her early seventies! Plus high cholesterol to boot! Another exception! Thanks, mom!!!
Jackson (Midwest)
Was she active or sedentary? Just curious.
Counter Measures (Old Borough Park, NY)
Was walking a mile a day at 99, without a cane, nine years after breaking her hip! And that was with a snap in her step schlepping a her cart with some groceries! Active?! More like a role model of perseverance! And that ain't fake news!!! Thanks, mom.
Wind Surfer (Florida)
This is more political than medical. Women have been underpaid than men nearly by 20%. Therefore their social security, savings and pensions, if any, are by far less than men in the same age group. Secondly oral care expenses are not much covered by Medicare. If these poor women were able to go to dentists, of course, they would have lived longer. The American society has been built, with consensus of the majority, more by the capitalism than the democracy in comparison with the European societies where most of the people are middle income people. On the other hand, our society is 'Upside-Down shape of the capital T' where a large number of people go to the bottom. Have you heard of "death by despair"?
Mooky (East Village, New York City)
Have you heard of communism?
David Krigbaum,DDS (Wausau, Wisconsin)
Just another example how oral health and healthy oral hygiene can effect overall health.
We can't separate the teeth and mouth from the rest of the body!
Wind Surfer (Florida)
Oral and nasal health are directly related to the brain health. Dr. Dale Bredesen, an Alzheimer's researcher at UCLA, includes gingervitis and herpes as two of his 54 causes of Alzheimer's.
ellen (nyc)
Not only can we not, but we shouldn't. Yet, where is our insurance policy on teeth? Why aren't they linked? It should be automatic with every health care policy that oral hygiene is included -- INCLUDING implants.
paul (blyn)
This just in.....a new study...

Reading studies like this put people at a greater risk of worry, anxiety, high blood pressure, spending excess money on dental products etc.

Even in the future, if cause and effect can be proven here, the death total is minute compared to other major ways you can die.

Better to find a cure for cancer than to spend money on these studies.
C (West Coast)
Notice how dental care is always excluded from health insurance in this country?
paul (blyn)
Exactly C....agreed that are general health care in this country is de facto criminal, at least a majority of people have coverage.

With dental, specially retirement dental, unless you had a strong public service union, or in rarer cases a private union, dental insurance is almost non existant for seniors...
Norma Solarz DDS (Richmond CA)
And exactly who was surprised to learn that oral disease is connected to systemic disease?
Norma Solarz DDS (Richmond CA)
And it's a surprise to whom that oral disease is connected to systemic disease?
a goldstein (pdx)
Lots of studies linking gum disease with bacteria detected in our circulatory system, including in arterial plaques. No wonder infected gums linked to shorter life span.

One of the underrated devices for promoting healthy gums is the toothpick. With a toothpick, you can gently slide the tip along the so-called gingival crevices where your teeth meet your gums. Doing this breaks up the biofilm (bad) where bacteria thrive even after brushing, flossing and rinsing.
ellen (nyc)
Let's be clear here - tooth loss comes from many things -- and this article implies that tooth loss in general is a mark of lesser health, when in fact, it's specific to periodontal disease. A woman who has lost teeth from an accident is at no greater risk than those of the general population.

Women with toothlessness alonee were at 12% greater risk for death -- but why? They are generally poorer with less opportunity to take care of their general health. It's less likely her teeth, but her general condition.
Jennie (WA)
Perhaps people with gum disease or who are lacking teeth have more difficulty eating fresh fruits and vegetables? It seems an obvious line of questioning.

Another possibility would be that an immune system that fought mouth bacteria well would also help against other causes of death. If you are ill from diabetes or heart disease and then can't fight off an infection as well, it makes sense you'd be more likely to die.

Still another is that people who are really sick might not have the energy to properly take care of their mouths, even if they look equally healthy on the surface.

It's an interesting correlation though.
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