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As our patients at Northfield Family Dental probably know, there exists a strong connection between an individual’s oral health and his or her risk of cancer. This association has only grown stronger after a recent long-term study collected data that has provided additional evidence that links an increased risk of cancer with advanced gum disease.
The study, conducted by researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, used data collected from comprehensive exams conducted on over 7,400 participants from four different U.S. states. They study participants took part in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study and were followed from the late 90s to 2012. During the follow-up period of the study, over 1,600 new cancer cases were diagnosed.
Finding an Increased Risk
Researchers found a 24 percent increase in cancer risk among participants suffering from severe periodontitis, compared to those with either no periodontitis or a mild case of the disease. Among participants with no remaining teeth – a potential sign for severe periodontitis – the increase in cancer risk was 28 percent. The highest risk was observed in cases of lung cancer, followed by colorectal cancer.
When researchers conducted a sub-group analyses, they discovered that patients with severe periodontal disease had more than twice the risk of developing lung cancer, when compared to those without or with mild cases of periodontitis. Researchers also noted an 80 percent increase in colon cancer risk in patients who had lost all of their teeth.
“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 prevention and treatment could help to alleviate the incidence of cancer and reduce the number of deaths due to certain types of cancer.”
Researchers also noted that their findings were particularly interesting in light of another recent study that found that cancerous colorectal tissue contains the same type of bacteria as normally found in the mouth, including bacteria typically associated with periodontal disease.
Researchers made sure to account for the impact smoking played in increasing the risk for cancer, as smokers are both more likely to develop periodontal disease and cancer when compared to nonsmokers.
“When we looked at data for the people who had never smoked, we also found evidence that having severe periodontal disease was related to an increased risk of lung cancer and colorectal cancer,” wrote the team.
The data collected from the ARIC was especially helpful to researchers because unlike previous research linking cancer risk to gum disease, periodontal cases were determined from actual dental evaluations performed by oral health professionals rather than from self-reporting on the behalf of participants. The dental exams conducted as part of the ARIC provided in-depth measurements of the gum disease caused pockets that had formed around the base of patients’ teeth.
Protecting Your Health
Advanced gum disease, clinically referred to as periodontitis, is caused by a bacterial infection that damages the bone and soft tissue that support the teeth. While previous research has found an association between gum disease and an increased risk of cancer, what links these to diseases remains uncertain.
What this and other similar studies stress, however, is the importance of maintaining our oral health. By practicing better oral hygiene habits, such as brushing twice a day and flossing daily, along with scheduling regular exams at Northfield Family Dental, you can successfully lower the risk for both cancer and gum disease.