More than 45% of adults in the UK have gum disease. In severe cases, it can lead to inflammation of the gum and connective tissue surrounding the teeth and is a leading cause of tooth loss.
The condition, known as periodontitis, is the 6th most prevalent disease throughout the world and is linked to general well-being and longevity.
A research team led by the University of Buffalo in New York analysed data drawn from 57,001 women aged 55 or older who were already enrolled in a study into women's health.
Over the course of 6.7 years, they noted 3,589 cases of cardiovascular disease and 3,816 deaths.
12% higher risk of dying
They found that a history of periodontal disease was associated with a 12% higher risk of dying from any cause.
This increased to 17% for women who had lost all their teeth – a condition called edentulism.
However, the researchers say they didn't find any association between tooth loss and an increased risk of dying from heart disease.
They did, though, find that women who had lost their teeth were older, had more risk factors for cardiovascular disease, were less well educated and saw their dentist less frequently than women who had kept their teeth. The authors call for further studies to assess whether additional oral screening could help reduce the number of people dying prematurely.
Changes caused by the menopause
Commenting on the findings in an emailed statement, Karen Coates, from the Oral Health Foundation says: "Several significant changes occur in the body during the menopause and many of have resulting symptoms which can have a substantial impact on a woman's day-to-day life, so much so that oral health can at times feel like the least of their worries.
"Falling oestrogen levels throughout menopause can cause numerous health issues, such as loss of bone density, leading to osteoporosis. At the same time, changes in oral health also are common as teeth and gums become more susceptible to disease, resulting in heightened risk of inflammation, bleeding, pain, and ultimately, loose or missing teeth.
"Although this research focuses specifically on tooth loss in post-menopausal women, it has been a well-held belief for many years, that for the entire population, the number of teeth we have is a reliable indicator for how long we are going to live.
"It is very evident that what is going on inside our mouth can be a really useful indicator for the state of our overall health. It is therefore vital that we take correct care of our mouth and pay close attention to what is happening, as it could be a sign of something more serious."
The Oral Health Foundation recommends brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, reducing the amount of sugary foods and drinks, and regular visits to the dentist.
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