What Gum Disease Might Mean for Women’s Health

Gum disease and tooth loss tied to higher risk of death in postmenopausal women

Written by: Alex Lindley
Gum Disease slide_text and picture of tooth
Courtesy: National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

In postmenopausal women, problems with the teeth and gums might have some serious health implications.

That’s according to a new study that found women who experience gum disease and tooth loss may face a raised risk of dying from any cause.

“Beside their negative impact on oral function and dietary habits, [gum disease and tooth loss] are also thought to be related to chronic diseases of aging,” said study author Dr. Michael J. LaMonte, research associate professor in epidemiology and environmental health at the University at Buffalo in New York, in a press release.

In the United States, around two-thirds of adults older than 60 experience an inflammatory disease of the gums called periodontal disease, according to this study. Around a third of U.S. adults in the same age category lose all their teeth — a condition called edentulism.

Postmenopausal women may see broader health benefits from more screening for these conditions, Dr. LaMonte said.

“However, studies of interventions aimed at improving periodontal health are needed to determine whether risk of death is lowered among those receiving the intervention compared to those who do not,” he said. “Our study was not able to establish a direct cause and effect.”

Looking at more than 57,000 women ages 55 and older who were in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) program, Dr. LaMonte and colleagues set out to assess the link between periodontal disease and the risk of heart disease. These researchers noted that few past studies had looked at this association in older women.

Compared to women who did not have a history of periodontal disease, those who did had a 12 percent higher risk of dying from any cause during a nearly seven-year follow-up period — but not an increased risk of heart disease, this study found. Women in this study who lost all their teeth faced a 17 percent higher risk of dying from any cause.

This study was published March 29 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded the WHI. The study authors disclosed no additional funding sources or potential conflicts of interest.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.