For years now, we have known about the potential link between stroke risk and lost teeth, but we haven’t exactly understood what causes the link. Now a new study has added strength to the relationship between the two conditions, but gets us no closer to understanding why the link exists.
Tooth Loss and Stroke Risk
The current study, published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene, is based on data from the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The BRFSS is a health survey system initiated in the mid 1980s to attempt to get a good cross sectional sample of the health of the US population. It involves a bi-annual survey of Americans over the telephone, with numerous questions on a broad range of health conditions and related behaviors.
In 2010, the survey reached nearly 411,000 people, and among the questions were “Has a doctor, nurse or other health professional ever told you that you had a stroke?” and “How many of your permanent teeth have been removed because of tooth decay or gum disease?” Using the responses from these questions, they found that the stroke risk increased significantly with the number of teeth lost:
- 1-5 missing teeth: 29% increased risk of stroke
- 6 or more missing teeth (but still some natural teeth): 68% increased risk of stroke
- No natural teeth remaining: 86% increased risk of stroke
These risk factors are after correcting for other known links between tooth loss and stroke.
What Is the Link?
In considering the link between tooth loss and stroke, it’s important to recognize that both conditions have many risk factors in common. Smoking, for example, increases risk of both tooth loss and stroke. As does gum disease. Diabetes, too. Even age is a common risk factor between these two conditions.
In a previous study that had similar results, researchers talked extensively about the potential links they had corrected for. In addition to the ones we’ve already mentioned, they considered diet–having fewer teeth makes it harder to eat fruits and vegetables, for example–and a number of socioeconomic conditions.
None of the other factors could explain the link between tooth loss and stroke.
A Direct Connection?
In the absence of other explanatory factors, we might have to assume that there is a direct causal link between tooth loss and stroke. This means that protecting your teeth, independent of gum disease considerations, might be a smart idea for preserving yourself for a long, healthy life. This means using reconstructive dentistry options like a root canal to preserve your teeth (and possibly dental implants to replace them, though the impact of this on strokes hasn’t been tested).