Large Study Links Severe Gum Disease and Cancer

A long-term study conducted by researchers from Tufts University, Health Sciences Campus in Massachusetts, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland and Kimmel Cancer Center in Pennsylvania shows a 24 percent higher risk of cancer for patients with severe gum disease.

The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and drew data from 7,466 participants across the states of Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi and North Carolina. Researchers reviewed the results of comprehensive dental exams performed on participants of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study that occurred from the late 1990s until 2012. The follow-up period that was part of the study confirmed 1,648 new cases of cancer.

The research team then dove deeper into the results and found that the participants with severe periodontal or gum disease had double the risk when it came to developing lung cancer specifically. The participants with no remaining teeth due to gum disease were 80 percent more at risk of developing colon cancer.

A recent study published in the journal Science found that colorectal cancer tissues contain bacteria that can be found in the mouth, especially the bacteria that occur in periodontal disease. This connection between the health of the body and that of the mouth continues to be a focus of study for researchers and scientists in all areas of medicine.

Mouth-Body Health Connection 

This isn’t the first time a connection between oral health and overall health has been clearly identified thanks to research, said Dr. Amy Norman, a leading dentist in Everett, Washington.

“Our mouths are full of both good and bad bacteria. If these bad bacteria are allowed to flourish due to poor oral health, some research shows that it can travel to other parts of the body and contribute to a host of health conditions,” she said.

The U.S. surgeon general has even suggested that the mouth is a mirror into the health of the body. Some of the most commonly studied diseases linked to oral health conditions, especially gum disease, include heart disease, diabetes, dementia, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, among many others still being studied.

While there is still a lot that we don’t understand about how these diseases affect each other, research is being done all over the world in an effort to better understand how the connection begins and how to prevent the domino-like effect that occurs when severe gum disease begins causing problems in other parts of the body.

“The best way to protect yourself is with a consistent and effective daily oral hygiene routine. Just like with weight loss, there are no shortcuts – just a daily commitment to taking care of yourself,” said Norman.

According to Norman, good oral hygiene can help keep the rest of your body healthy, and in turn bad oral hygiene can lead to many health problems or contribute to existing ones.