Gum disease might just be a more serious issue than we give it credit for.
Usually, when we think about gum disease, the focus is on the bad breath or an unsightly smile. However, there’s a body of new research that’s beginning to indicate there could be a link between cancer and advanced gum disease.
There was a 1994 study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention suggesting a connection between oral health and cancer. Unfortunately, the women in this study rather than dental professionals self-reported gum disease which may have compromised results.
Now, though, there is fresh data emerging after the results of a lengthy team study were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Michaud from Tufts University School of medicine and Elizabeth Platz from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg and Kimmel Cancer Center led this collaborative study. It was based on dental exams from over 7000 participants.
Running for over a decade until 2012, follow-up after this study led to 1648 diagnoses of cancer.
Indicators were disturbing:
- Participants with severe periodontitis showed a 24% increase in cancer risk against those with no periodontitis or only a mild case
- Participants who had lost all their teeth through periodontitis showed a 28% increase in cancer risk
This exhaustive study lasered in more fully on risk factors with equally unpalatable results…
- Participants with severe periodontitis showed a 50% increase in the risk of lung cancer
- Participants edentulous at baseline showed an 80% increase in the risk of colon cancer
Beyond this, study participants with severe periodontitis were very slightly more prone to pancreatic cancer.
On the plus side, no conclusive evidence was found to show an increased likelihood of breast, lymphatic or prostate cancer.
Dr. Michaud did not dismiss these findings but stated clearly that new research is necessary in order to start lessening these risks by better preventing periodontal disease.
Other areas of research have pointed toward cancer tissues containing bacteria causing colorectal cancer to proliferate. There is perhaps a link here with periodontal disease but, again, more study is required.
Although smoking is frequently a contributory factor in periodontal disease as well as lung cancer and colon cancer, it’s not exclusively smokers who are at risk.
According to Platz, severe periodontal disease can boost the chance of lung cancer and colon cancer even in non-smokers.
Platz remains positive, though. She states that this new data reinforces the importance of proper dental health and better education about periodontal disease. She also calls out for enhanced dental insurance to guard against neglect through a lack of funds for treatment.