Mouth/Body Connections: Gum Disease & Cancer

by | Nov 5, 2020 | Biological Dentistry, Periodontal health

One brutal reality about gum disease is that the damage doesn’t necessarily stay limited to your mouth. Emerging research, for instance, has suggested that it may raise your risk of certain cancers.

mouth with teeth showingOne study, published this past summer in the journal Gut, found that those with a history of gum disease had a 43% higher risk of esophageal cancer and a 52% higher risk of stomach cancer. Those who had lost teeth – a consequence of severe gum disease – were also at greater risk: 42% and 33%, respectively.

The risks jumped even more for those with a history of gum disease once tooth loss began.

As this study looked only at the associations, it didn’t have anything to say about possible reasons why, though the research team offered some possibilities in a news release.

The authors point to possible reasons for an association between oral bacteria (oral microbiota) and esophageal and gastric cancer, with evidence from other studies suggesting that tannerella forsythia and porphyromonas gingivalis — members of the ‘red complex’ of periodontal pathogens — were associated with the presence or risk of esophageal cancer.

Another possible reason is that poor oral hygiene and periodontal disease could promote the formation of endogenous nitrosamines known to cause gastric cancer through nitrate-reducing bacteria.

Not long after, another study – this, in Cancer Prevention Research – similarly found a higher risk of developing at least two types of precancerous cells in the colon: serrated polyps and conventional adenomas.

This study analyzed data from over 42,000 participants who had been in one of two health surveys. Those with gum disease were found to have a 17% higher risk of serrated polyps and an 11% higher risk of conventional adenomas. The risk of the polyps was a little bit higher for those who had lost multiple teeth to gum disease: 20%.

Risk jumped even more with respect to conventional adenomas: 28% for those who had lost up to three teeth and 26% for those who had lost four or more.

While this study likewise looked only at associations and not causes, its lead author, Dr. Mingyang Song, similarly suggested the impact of harmful mouth bacteria to Forbes Magazine:

“The oral cavity harbors a wide array of microbial communities,” said Song. “Various factors, including poor oral hygiene, genetic susceptibility, smoking, diabetes, and obesity can result in an excess of oral pathogens that may induce host inflammation and immune dysregulation,” added Song.

Just another reminder that taking care of your oral health is an essential part of maintaining your whole body health.

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