Researchers have concluded that women who have a history of gum disease or who have lost all of their natural teeth are at a greater risk of death from all causes.
The scientists analysed data from more than 57,000 women aged 55 or older to reach their conclusions.
Michael J. LaMonte, Ph.D., a study co-author and associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the University at Buffalo in New York, and his colleagues recently published their findings today in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAMA).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gum disease – also known as periodontal disease – affects 47 percent of adults aged 30 and above in the United States.
The risk of gum disease also rises with age. About 70 percent of adults aged 65 and older have the condition.
Bad breath, red, swollen, or bleeding gums, and sensitive teeth are common signs of gum disease. The condition is also a key cause of tooth loss.
Between 2011 and 2012, almost 19 percent of adults aged 65 and older in the U.S. had complete tooth loss, or edentulism, with many cases caused by gum disease.
Poor dental health and mortality
Previous studies have associated both gum disease and tooth loss with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
However, LaMonte and colleagues note that these studies have a number of limitations.
“Few studies have included older adults or specifically women, and in those that have, inconsistent results were reported,” they write.
With this in mind, the team set out to gain a better understanding of how gum disease and tooth loss might impact the risk of CVD and mortality among older women.
To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed the data of 57,001 women aged between 50 and 89 years who were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study between 1993 and 1998.
History of gum disease, tooth loss, and frequency of dental visits were assessed using a follow-up questionnaire, conducted between 1998 and 2003.
Over an average 6.7 years of follow-up, the researchers identified 3,589 CVD events and 3,816 deaths among the women.
Tooth loss may raise death risk
Compared with women without a history of gum disease, those with a history of the condition were found to have a 12 percent increased risk of death from all causes.
This greater risk remained even after accounting for the frequency of visits to the dentist, the team reported.
Furthermore, the researchers found that women with complete tooth loss had a 17 percent increased risk of all-cause death, compared with women without edentulism.
Edentulism was most common among women who were older, less educated, and who visited the dentist less frequently.
No association was found between gum disease, tooth loss, and risk of CVD.
The researchers note that their study is purely observational, so it is unable to establish cause and effect between poor dental health and increased risk of death.
Still, they believe that their results warrant further investigation.
"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.”