As regular readers of the Feldmanis Family Dentistry blog know, our oral health can influence our overall health in some surprising ways. In recent years, studies have found links between tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss with a variety of chronic illnesses that include heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Now a new study has linked gum disease with an increased risk for a variety of different cancers in postmenopausal women, including women who never smoked.
In the study findings, researchers discovered that gum disease was linked to a 14 percent higher risk in developing any type of cancer. However, the greatest risk was for esophageal cancer, which was three times more likely to develop in older women with gum disease when compared to those with healthy gums.
Additionally, gum disease was also linked to a higher risk for melanoma, gallbladder, lung, and breast cancer, the study findings showed.
Researchers hope that the findings of this study may help to provide better guidelines that use oral hygiene, oral health, and preventative dental care as tools for improved cancer diagnosis and as perceived cancer risk factors.
Healthier Gums Reduce Cancer Risk
While the study found that gallbladder, lung, and breast cancers were linked to a higher risk for women who had both gum disease and a history of smoking, women who never smoked but had gum disease were linked to a higher risk for other types of cancer, including melanoma.
Even though gum disease has been previously associated with heart disease, the exact reason why the disease may be linked to cancer isn’t entirely understood by researchers. However, there is some speculation that gum disease isn’t a direct risk factor for cancer, but rather acts as a marker for an individual’s overall health.
One of the most common theories surrounding how gum disease increases the risk for other systemic disease involves the spread of inflammation. Under this theory – when cracks develop in gum tissue as the result of gum disease, it allows oral bacteria to enter the bloodstream where it can travel to other areas, such as the heart and joints. Once oral bacteria begin to form in these areas outside the mouth, they can start to cause the same type of inflammation that leads to gum disease. This inflammation then leads to the development of health problems like cardiovascular disease or arthritis, two conditions linked to gum disease in recent studies.
In this study, researchers collected data on approximately 66,000 women between the ages of 54 and 86 who took part in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study.
Women were asked to complete questionnaires given between 1999 and 2003 and report on whether they had gum disease. Researchers monitored the participation group for the development of cancer all the way through 2013.
Over an eight-year average follow-up period, researchers identified almost 7,200 cancer cases. While further research is needed before researchers can clearly state that a connection between gum disease and cancer exists, the results of this and other research make it clear that our oral health is not something we can afford to ignore.
Feldmanis Family Dentistry Can Help Protect Your Health
There’s still so much we don’t yet understand when it comes to what links our oral health and an increased risk for disease. However, what’s become clear is the need for preventative dental care to help lay the foundation for a lifetime of quality oral health.
Routine dental exams and cleanings provide our team at Feldmanis Family Dentistry the opportunity to spot the signs of gum disease early when treating the disease is easiest. It’s when patients go several years without receiving the dental care they need that gum disease can begin to spiral out of control.
What these types of studies are also helping to reinforce is the idea that we must start treating our oral health with the same kind of respect and diligence as we do our weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, heart health, and cognitive function.
Don’t let your oral health become the cause of a problem that could’ve been easily avoidable with just a little preventative care.