Gum Disease Increases Risk of Death for Postmenopausal Women

Dentistry Today


Gum disease and tooth loss may be associated with a higher risk of death in postmenopausal women but not increased cardiovascular disease risk, according to researchers led by the University of Buffalo. Periodontal disease affects nearly two thirds of adults in the United States ages 60 years and older. Edentulism, often resulting from periodontal disease, affects about one third of US adults ages 60 years and older. 

“Besides their negative impact on oral function and dietary habits, these conditions are also thought to be related to chronic diseases of aging,” said Michael J. LaMonte, PhD, study author and research associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the university’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.

“Previous studies included smaller sample sizes or had limited numbers of cardiovascular disease events for analysis. Ours is among the largest and focuses exclusively on postmenopausal women in whom periodontitis, total tooth loss, and cardiovascular disease is high nationally,” LaMonte said.

The researchers analyzed the health information from the Women’s Health Initiative program, a study of 57,001 women ages 55 years and older. In a 6.7-year follow-up of postmenopausal women studied, they found the following:

  • There were 3,589 cardiovascular disease events and 3,816 deaths.
  • A history of periodontal disease was associated with a 12% higher risk of death from any cause.
  • Loss of all natural teeth was associated with a 17% higher risk of death from any cause. The risk of death associated with periodontal disease was comparable regardless of how often women saw their dentists.
  • Women who had lost their teeth were older, had more cardiovascular disease risk factors and less education, and visited the dentist less frequently compared to women with their teeth.

“Our findings suggest that older women may be at higher risk for death because of their periodontal condition and may benefit from more intensive oral screening measures,” said LaMonte. “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. Our study was not able to establish a direct cause and effect.”

The study, “History of Periodontitis Diagnosis and Edentulism as Predictors of Cardiovascular Disease, Stroke, and Mortality in Postmenopausal Women,” was published by the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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