Gum Disease and Cancer: The Alarming Connection

A new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute highlights a link between gum disease (also called periodontal disease and periodontitis) and increased cancer risk.

If you’re a regular follower of our news section, this might sound a bit familiar to you. Earlier this year we published a story about postmenopausal women with gum disease and their increased risk of cancer (particularly esophageal cancer). Although both studies highlight a link between gum disease and cancer, this latest study suggests the connection between cancer and gum disease is much broader, applying to more than just postmenopausal women.

The findings are based on data collected over the course of more than a decade from the late 90’s through 2012. Primarily, data included dental records from more than 7,466 patients from Maryland, Mississippi and North Carolina. It was found that 1,648 had been diagnosed with cancer.

Researchers found participants that suffered from severe gum disease were 24 percent more likely to develop cancer. This risk factor increased to 28 percent for those missing teeth. Further, researchers were able to determine that people dealing with severe gum disease were twice as likely to develop lung cancer and colon cancer. The specifics of this connection are not yet clear.

These results are the latest example of the oral systemic connection, and the potential health hazards that can develop as a byproduct of poor oral health. Additional study is needed to fully understand the connection.

Oral & General Health

The link between gum disease and cancer isn’t necessarily new. As mentioned above, gum disease has been linked with increased cancer risk for postmenopausal women. A study in 2007 also that found that people with gum disease are at greater risk of pancreatic cancer.

Most people view dental health through the prism of the mouth. I.e. don’t take care of your teeth and you’ll lose them. Or if you don’t brush and floss you’ll get cavities, or you’ll have bad breath, or your teeth will turn yellow. Rarely do people consider the true magnitude of poor dental health. Although cancer is the focus of the study mentioned above, oral health problems have been linked with other serious general health conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Disregard your oral hygiene and it’s not only your teeth you should be worried about losing.

As always, we will continue to follow the studies and provide updates as the link between gum disease and cancer is fleshed out in more detail. Until then, don’t forget to brush twice a day, floss daily, and visit your dentist for a checkup twice a year.

Read more about the oral systemic connection and/or how the World Dental Federation is looking to combat gum disease.