Your oral and eye health could be a strong indicator of your overall health. A study of data from the Women’s Health Initiative program, which included 57,000 women, showed that for older women, loss of their natural teeth is associated with a 17% higher risk of premature death. Women with a history of serious gum infection have a 12% risk. Another study of 74,000 women aged 65 or older showed that women who underwent cataract surgery lived longer. While the research of both studies only shows a correlation (and not cause), the connection is worth exploring.
Women who had cataract surgery had a 60% decreased risk of premature death, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Cataracts, clouding of the eye lens, are a leading cause of visual impairment. Cataract surgery restores clear vision by replacing an opaque lens with a clear lens implant made of plastic. The study showed that women who had cataract surgery were less likely to die from accidents, lung and heart diseases, cancer, infectious diseases and neurological disorders.
Why are women who undergo cataract surgery more likely to live longer? The significance of the new findings isn’t totally clear. Prior research suggests that cataract surgery can help individuals’ health improve as increased vision leads to better day-to-day functioning. On the other hand, perhaps women who choose cataract surgery may be more health-conscious and simply take better care of themselves.
Gum disease and the age at which women lose natural teeth are related to chronic diseases of aging, such as lung disease, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure. As mentioned previously loss of all teeth is connected to a 17% higher risk of early death. The study did not establish a direct cause and effect in which gum disease or tooth loss is shown to cause an early death. Compared to women with all their teeth, those with total loss of teeth were not as well-educated, didn’t visit their dentists as often, and had more heart disease risk factors, such as poor diet and less physical activity.
More than 66% of U.S. adults over 60 have of periodontal (or gum) disease. Analysis showed that having a history of poor oral health was associated with a 12% higher risk of early death.
The findings indicate that taking care of one’s oral health can help avoid health consequences later in life. In addition to monitoring for high cholesterol and hypertension, older women should consider making regular dental visits to monitor for gum disease part of their essential health plan.