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As a Denver family dentist, the team at Northfield Family Dental make it our goal to provide patients with the knowledge needed to better protect their long-term oral health. While many patients think of their oral health as only relating to their teeth and gums, decades worth of research has shown that simply untrue.
Over the years, researchers have found evidence that suggests patients who experience tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss all have a significantly higher risk for developing a range of chronic illnesses that include heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and even cancer. Now, a recent study conducted in the U.K. has found that patients who reported as having poor oral health, such as bleeding gums or loose teeth, had a 75 percent higher risk of liver cancer when compared to those with a healthy mouth.
While previous research has established a link between cancer and poor oral health, this study is the first time researchers have established a connection between poor oral health and a specific type of gastrointestinal cancer.
The results of this study were published in the United European Gastroenterology Journal.
Gum Disease’s Link to Cancer
Gastrointestinal cancers, or digestive system cancers, rank as a significant problem worldwide. One study conducted globally discovered that approximately 28 percent of new cancer cases and 37 percent of cancer deaths were the result of gastrointestinal cancer in 2018.
Sadly, the number of patients who receive a gastrointestinal cancer diagnosis continues to climb. Among senior populations, researchers suspect a variety of environmental and behavioral factors may play a role in the increased prevalence of these types of cancer.
While other studies have found connections linking gastrointestinal cancers with poor oral health, how big a role lifestyle habits like alcohol use, smoking, and diet play in determining an individual’s risk remains uncertain.
Gastrointestinal cancers encompass a wide range of cancers, including colon, rectum, small intestine, liver, stomach, and pancreas.
In their study, researchers examined data collected as part of the U.K. Biobank project. The complete data pool involved in the study covered over 490,000 adults living all across the U.K. who were between the ages of 40 to 69.
Researchers discounted any data on participants who failed to report sufficient information regarding their oral health or who had a previous history of cancer prior to joining the study.
In total, researchers examined the health records of over 469,000 people, among whom slightly over 4,000 developed gastrointestinal cancer during an average six-year follow-up period.
Of the participants who developed a gastrointestinal cancer, 13 percent reported having poor oral health when the study first started.
After examining other information provided by the study participants, researchers concluded that the participants who reported having poor oral health were more like to be female, younger, and obese. They were also less likely to eat more than two servings of fruits and vegetables a day and were more likely to smoke.
In the study, researchers defined poor oral health for any participant who reported painful gums, bleeding gums, and/or having had lost permanent teeth.
Liver Cancer Risk
An examination of the data collected in the study found no connection between poor oral health and gastrointestinal cancer risk.
However, when researchers looked for signs of specific cancer types, they did find connections between poor oral health and hepatobiliary cancers, a form of the disease that develops in the gallbladder, liver, and bile ducts of the body.
The strongest connection discovered by researchers was between poor oral health and hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer.
Researchers determined that patients with poor oral health had a 75 percent higher risk for developing hepatocellular carcinoma.
In the U.S., the number of liver cancer cases has more than tripled since 1980, according to the American Cancer Society.
The ACS estimates that over 42,000 people will receive a liver cancer diagnosis, and over 31,000 people will die of the disease in 2019.
The Connection Remains Uncertain
Despite what their research showed, it remains unclear to researchers what mechanisms in the body link our oral health to liver cancer while not increasing the risk for other types of digestive cancers.
One theory proposes that stomach bacteria could offer valuable insight. Researchers believe it possible that when diseases like cancer attack the liver, it impacts the liver’s ability to fight off harmful bacteria throughout the body. This then allows bacteria to live longer, thereby causing more problems and increasing any potential damage that could occur to the body.
However, what the research does make clear is that visiting your Denver family dentist is a key part to protecting not only your oral health, but your overall health as well. Regular exams and cleanings with your Denver family dentist can lower your risk for gum disease, and all of the disease associated with poor oral health.