Patients who suffer from severe cases of gum disease may not only have their risk for cancer increased; they may also increase their likelihood of dying of the disease, especially pancreatic cancer, suggests the results of a new joint study conducted by researchers in both the U.S. and Finland.
The U.S. half of the study, conducted by researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine, involved nearly 7,500 individuals who had recently undergone a dental examination. Of those participants, over 1,600 developed cancer.
The results of the study, published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that severe periodontitis was linked with a 24 percent increased risk for cancer, with the highest increase in risk involving colorectal and lung cancers.
“This is the largest study addressing the association of gum disease and cancer risk using dental examinations to measure gum disease prior to cancer diagnosis,” wrote researchers.
“Additional research is needed to evaluate if periodontal disease treatment and prevention could help to lower cancer risk and reduce the number of deaths caused by certain types of cancer.”
In the Finnish half of the study, researchers from the University of Helsinki examined the dental records of over 68,000 adults who had recently made a dental healthcare visit.
The data showed that periodontitis was linked with a 33 percent increased risk for overall cancer mortality. The mortality risk linked with gum disease among participants with pancreatic cancer was far higher, with more than a two times greater risk of death.
“These studies have demonstrated for the first time that the virulence factors of the central pathogenic bacteria underlying gum disease are able to spread from the mouth to other parts of the body, most likely in conjunction with the bacteria, and take part in central mechanisms of tissue destruction related to cancer,” wrote the Finnish research team.
These results further reinforce the idea that early diagnosis and prevention of gum disease could offer enormous health benefits that extend far beyond the health of our teeth and gums.
The Largest Study Based On Dental Examinations
To this point, the majority of studies to examine the connection between cancer risk and gum disease have relied heavily on self-reporting. In contrast, this study involved a dental examination as part of its findings.
The U.S. research team used data collected from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, which involved over 15,700 participants between the ages of 44 to 66 who were recruited to join the study from four different geographic areas in the U.S. from 1987 to 1989.
Each of the study participants took part in a baseline examination, followed by three subsequent follow-up visits over a 10-year period. At the fourth follow-up, the remaining participants were invited to receive a dental exam that probed their gum tissue for the signs of gum disease.
Researchers also examined all of participants who had died during throughout the duration of the study to determine the cause of death.
Eliminating participants who had a history of cancer from their findings, researchers included the current data on over 6,000 participants who underwent the final dental exam and the 1,410 who had no remaining permanent teeth.
Roughly 2,500 participants were reviewed as having no or minor cases of gum disease, while 2,300 suffered from moderate periodontitis, and 1,200 had severe periodontitis.
When compared to participants with either no or mild periodontitis, those with severe cases of the disease had a significant increase in risk for developing cancer. The link between the severity of gum disease and cancer risk was especially strong for lung cancer, even when taking known risk factors, like smoking status and history, into account.
Protecting Your Health
While researchers continue to explore what links cancer and oral health, it’s become clear that taking care of our oral health and receiving regular dental care is far more important than to just ensuring a great-looking smile. To successfully lower your risk for both gum disease and the chronic conditions it has been linked to in studies, it is vital that you make dental care and oral health just as important as regular physicals.
As a holistic dentist in Denver, our team at the McGinty Dental Group is already keenly aware of the interconnectedness of our oral and overall health. Don’t take your long-term health for granted by ignoring the signs of gum disease and by failing to receive the regular dental care you need to enjoy great health now and into the future.