Don't think your oral health is as important as the health of the rest of your body? Think again. Researchers have turned to 57,000 women over age 55 in the Women's Health Initiative program to conduct the largest study of its kind on the relationship between oral health and mortality, and, reporting in the Journal of the American Heart Association, they note that "how many teeth you have in your mouth at a given point in time" is a pretty good indication of your "overall, cumulative health status," as one researcher tells CNN. Researchers felt it was important to study the population of older women since menopause has a negative effect on oral health, Medscape reports.
Older women with a history of periodontal disease, which is a gum infection, have a 12% higher risk of premature death from any cause than older women without such a history, per a press release. Similarly, women who experienced complete loss of natural teeth were 17% more likely to die early, though it's an epidemiological study and does not demonstrate that oral decay is the root cause of these premature deaths, reports the New York Times. The research did not find a direct correlation between gum disease and heart disease, so researchers call for more regular screenings of oral health alongside screenings for, say, diabetes and high cholesterol as yet another preventive measure to help assess overall health as we age. (Soda can be as bad for your teeth as meth.)