Gum disease and tooth loss may increase risk of death in postmenopausal women — but not cardiovascular disease, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that periodontal disease was associated with a 12 percent higher risk of death from any cause and loss of all natural teeth was associated with a 17 percent higher risk of death from any cause.

Periodontal disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gum and connective tissue surrounding the teeth, affects nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults 60 and older. The loss of teeth, called edentulism, impacts about one-third of U.S. adults 60 and older and often results from periodontal disease.

“Beside 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, Ph.D., M.P.H., research associate professor in epidemiology and environmental health at the University at Buffalo in New York.

Researchers analyzed information from the Women’s Health Initiative program, a study of 57,001 women 55 years and older.

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

In 6.7-years follow-up, 3,589 cardiovascular disease events and 3,816 deaths occurred.

Women who had lost their teeth were older, had more CVD risk factors, less education and visited the dentist less frequently compared to women with 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,” 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. Our study was not able to establish a direct cause and effect.”

The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.