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Dental health tells more than how thoroughly a person brushes and flosses. It also can indicate the risk of stroke and heart disease. The results of a study published in Stroke (September 2003) show evidence of a relationship between periodontal disease and greater risk for developing problems with the heart or circulatory system. The study found that older adults who had lost 10 to 19 teeth had an increased risk of stroke, compared with individuals who had lost fewer teeth. Researchers believe that the connection between teeth and the arteries is that periodontal disease may start a surge of chemical events that cause inflammation throughout the body.
In the study, the researchers at the University of Minnesota followed 711 participants ranging in age from 57 to 75 who had no history of stroke or heart disease. The researchers scanned their carotid arteries for evidence of atherosclerosis and examined their teeth and gums. They looked for signs of periodontal disease, such as plaque on the teeth and pockets between the teeth and gums. Also, they counted the number of teeth each person had and considered tooth loss to be a sign of past periodontal disease. The study showed that people with the most missing teeth had the most carotid artery plague.