cancer and gum diseaseGum disease is a common issue among Americans, with the CDC reporting half of all Americans over the age of 30 suffer from the chronic inflammatory disease. People with gum disease tend to have increased inflammation throughout their bodies, making periodontal disease common in those with diabetes and heart disease and even serving as an early indicator for both. Patients with diabetes are twice as likely to develop periodontal disease, and patients with chronic gum disease are at higher risk for heart attack.

But what about cancer?

Various research has found connections between periodontal disease and many types of cancer, including oral, esophageal, head and neck, pancreatic and lung cancers, for smokers and nonsmokers alike. However, several new studies have linked even breast and kidney cancers to gum disease.

Periodontal disease increases cancer risk for men

As reported by the American Dental Association, a study in The Lancet Oncology found that men with a history of periodontal disease have a 14 percent higher risk of cancer than men without it. Several cancers carried an even higher risk; men with periodontal disease are at a 36 percent higher risk of developing lung cancer, 49 percent risk of getting kidney cancer, 54 percent risk of pancreatic cancer and 30 percent risk of white blood cell cancers.

Gum disease increases risk of breast cancer

Postmenopausal women with periodontal disease have been found more likely to develop breast cancer, according to a study published in Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, published by the American Association for Cancer Research. Among all women in the study, those with periodontal disease were at 14 percent greater risk of breast cancer. Researchers suggest the two may be connected because there is systemic inflammation with periodontal disease that affects the breast tissues, or bacteria from the mouth may enter the circulatory system and affect breast tissues. More research is needed to establish a causal link.

Bacteria responsible for gum disease may cause esophageal cancer

Most recently, researchers at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry found that a type of bacteria responsible for gum disease may be a cause of esophageal cancer. The bacteria was found in 61 percent of patients with esophageal squamous call carcinoma (ESCC), and it was not detectable in healthy esophageal tissue. Esophageal cancer is difficult to diagnose early, progresses quickly and carries a high mortality rate, with more than 15,500 people in the United States dying from the disease each year.

Dr. Huizi Wang, assistant professor of oral immunology and infectious diseases for the school, says the findings mark the first direct evidence that the bacteria and resulting infection could be a “novel risk factor for ESCC.” Wang cites two explanations for the relationship: either the cancer cells thrive in the presence of the bacteria or the infection of the bacteria helps esophageal cancer to develop. If the bacteria is proven to cause ESCC, improving oral hygiene could reduce the risk for the cancer, screening for the bacteria could identify susceptible subjects early on and using antibiotics could potentially prevent the cancer’s progression.

Reducing your risk

Gum disease is preventable with good oral hygiene, visiting the dentist regularly and a nutritious diet. For patients who have or are at risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, it’s crucial to let your dentist know about your health issues and the medications you’re taking. If your gums are unusually sore, swollen or red; your gums are bleeding consistently; your gums are receding; you have ongoing dryness or bad taste in the mouth; you notice changes in your bite or your dentures are suddenly sore or not fitting correctly, you may be experiencing periodontal disease and it could point to other health problems. Call your dentist right away to report the problem and schedule an appointment to begin gum disease treatment.

At Caffaratti Dental Group, we are vigilant in maintaining our patients’ oral health and overall health. We’re experienced in periodontal disease treatment at every stage, both on its own and in connection to other systemic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes. If your gums are red, sore or bleeding, give us a call today at (775) 204-2532 so we can improve your oral health and assess your risk for other health issues.