Among the least healthy of our brethren are those with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, itself now associated with a greater chance of developing periodontal disease.

A new study from the University of Uppsala in Switzerland suggests that doctors should screen patients with poor dental health for heart-related ailments, particularly those with other risk factors such as diabetes and lower socioeconomic status. In a study published Wednesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, researchers said poor dental health was common among the 15,000 patients with coronary heart disease in the study.

Likewise, patients with lower risk for cardiovascular disease had on average lower levels of glucose and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, as well as lower systolic blood pressure and a thinner waistline. Among the healthier, patients were generally better educated and had kept most of their teeth. Diabetes and smoking were less common, too, though alcohol consumption and work stress were higher, as one might expect of the more affluent.

The study group was comprised of more than 15,000 patients in 39 countries who not only had coronary heart disease but also one other risk factor for the condition. Within this unhealthy group, 16 percent said they’d already lost all of their teeth while 41 percent reported significant tooth loss, with fewer than 15 remaining. The highest rates of tooth loss and gingivitis were found in Eastern Europe, where nearly 70 percent of the study participants either smoked now or had in the past.

"The evident and consistent relationship between self-reported dental status and CV risk in this population could point towards periodontal disease being a risk factor for incident [coronary heart disease],” researcher Ola Vedin said in a statement.

Yet that association between poor dental and heart health doesn’t suggest a causal link, he added. "It is still a matter of debate whether periodontal disease is an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease,” he said.

Whereas some studies suggest a moderate association, others conflict. “Our findings show an association between self-reported periodontal disease and several cardiovascular risk factors and as such lend support to a possible association between the conditions,” he said.

Still, Vedin said he wouldn’t necessarily advise brushing and flossing as a way to lower risk for coronary heart disease, which is the leading cause of preventable death for adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Source: European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. 2014.