Periodontal disease, an advanced form of gum disease, is known to have links with many ailments, including diabetes, chronic hypertension and more. Recent studies have shown another unfortunate connection: Periodontal disease was found to increase the likelihood of developing different types of cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims more than 47 percent of adults over age 30 and more than 70 percent adults over age 65 have some form of periodontal disease. Additionally, women are less likely than men to have this problem, but it still affects almost 40 percent of all adult women in the United States.

Jean Wactawski-Wende, Ph.D., a leading epidemiologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, worked with colleagues from different institutions in the U.S. to study this troublesome connection between periodontal disease and cancer in post-menopausal women. The study included more than 65,000 women of ages 54-86. A majority of these women were white (non-Hispanic), and all were participants in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study.

The study's subjects recorded their diagnoses of gum disease from 1999-2003. Then, participants were monitored for cancer until September 2013. The average follow-up time period of each woman was 8.32 years. Unfortunately, 7,149 women were diagnosed with varying forms of cancer during this period.

Researchers recognized that those participants who had reported previous gum disease diagnoses were 14 percent more likely to have developed cancer. Of the 7,149 cases of cancer, 2,416 patients had developed breast cancer. Esophageal and gallbladder cancers were prominent as well.

Wactawski-Wende was not surprised by the connection between gum disease and esophageal cancer.

"The esophagus is in close proximity to the oral cavity, and so periodontal pathogens may more easily gain access to and infect the esophageal mucosa and promote cancer risk at that site," she said.

However, the researchers were more taken aback by the link between gallbladder cancer and periodontal disease.

"Chronic inflammation has also been implicated in gallbladder cancer, but there has been no data on the association between periodontal disease and gallbladder risk. Ours is the first study to report on such an association," said Ngozi Nwizu, an assistant professor of oral and maxillofacial pathology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

The study results were published earlier this month in the journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The researchers hope to use this information in future studies, and they also hope it will help bring a heightened awareness of the possible health complications in older women for their doctors and dentists.