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Poor Oral Health Marker of Early Death Risk in Men
May 8, 2013

By Nancy Volkers
InteliHealth News Service

INTELIHEALTH - Poor oral health may indicate a higher risk of early death in men, a new study concludes.

Several studies have found a link between oral health and the risk of early death. This new study looked to see if any or all of the link could be explained by income, education or risky health behaviors.

Data came from the Vietnam Experience Study. This study included 4,188 men who had entered military service between January 1965 and December 1971.

They completed a telephone interview and had a medical exam. Men were followed for an average of 30 years. Their causes of death were taken from death certificates.

Most deaths during the study were caused by:

  • Cancer (20.8%)
  • Heart disease (23.2%)
  • External causes, such as accidents (22.0%)

Of the men in the study, 63% had good oral health, according to an exam. Another 23% had fair oral health, and 11% had poor oral health. The other 3% had no remaining natural teeth.

Researchers adjusted the numbers to account for other factors that can affect the risk of early death. These included income, education, health-related behaviors (such as smoking and alcohol use) and chronic diseases. Even after accounting for these, men without natural teeth still had about three times the risk of dying from any cause as men in good oral health. They also had about five times the risk of dying from heart or blood-vessel diseases.

Men in poor oral health had about twice the risk of dying from any cause as men in good oral health. They also had twice the risk of dying from heart or blood-vessel diseases.

The risk of death was no higher for men in fair oral health than for those in good oral health. Statistics showed that income, education and some health-related behaviors explained about half the increased risk of dying. The behaviors that had an effect were smoking, drinking alcohol, substance abuse and excess weight.

Other studies have suggested reasons that poor oral health may contribute to the risk of dying. People who have lost all of their natural teeth may change their diets. As a result, they may not get the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Periodontal disease and other oral diseases also cause the body's immune system to react. This produces inflammation. Studies have suggested that proteins and other molecules involved in oral inflammation could spread throughout the body in the blood stream. This might lead to an increased risk of other health-threatening conditions, such as heart disease.

The researchers noted that 22% of deaths in this study were from external causes. Neither inflammation nor problems with nutrition could explain the increase in this type of death risk. However, the authors said that people who put their oral health at risk also may be more likely to put themselves at risk in other ways. So they may make behavior or lifestyle choices that could increase their risk of death from an injury or accident.

Researchers from the University of Oregon, the University of Copenhagen and University College London did the study. It appears in the May issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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