One of the biggest questions people often ask when faced with gum disease is the potential long-term risks of having this disease. Gum disease causes the gums to inflame, bleed, and form pockets between the teeth, consistently collecting bacteria and embedding deep into the jawline and bloodstream. During its beginning stages, it can be treated at home through consistent brushing and flossing. In contrast, advanced stages, called periodontal disease, would need periodontal treatment that involves deep cleanings and even surgery. However, left untreated, gum disease can advance and form other potential conditions, including cancer.
What Studies State About The Connection
According to studies conducted by journals, researchers at universities and international organizations have made vast connections between periodontal disease and cancer. Researchers have noted that the bacteria that cause gum disease can be blamed for pancreatic, lung, colorectal, and oral cancer. Many systemic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and diabetes have been connected to periodontal disease, and chronic inflammation has been the connecting point between these two conditions.
- Oral Cancer: Several studies have shown an increased risk of oral cancer with periodontal disease and tooth loss. Tooth loss was identified as an independent factor for oral cancer because of the chronic trauma after the oral mucous membrane’s irritation, which plays an essential role in cancer formation. For instance, those who have lost more than 11 teeth have a higher chance of getting oral cancer than those who lost no teeth after adjustments from alcohol and smoking. Oral cancer is also significantly higher for those who smoke, drink alcohol, lose teeth without replacement, and have periodontal disease.
- Gastric Cancer: Periodontal disease and gastric cancer have also shown minor connections, as those who have lost more than ten teeth have a two-fold increase of getting gastric cancer. This study, conducted in Japan, connected the odds between gastric cancer and lost teeth, but there are currently no other supporting links connecting gastric cancers with periodontal disease.
- Pancreatic Cancer: Known as the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, one established factor connecting periodontal disease with pancreatic cancer is cigarette smoking. Those who have type 2 diabetes, obesity, and insulin resistance also have higher risks of developing pancreatic cancer. Currently, the association with periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer has also been found to appear higher with nonsmokers.
- Lung Cancer: Lung cancer and periodontal disease have shown an increased risk in patients with gum disease that persists even after smoking, but other studies have shown no significant results with smoking, lung cancer, and periodontal disease. It is not clear whether periodontal disease and lung cancer have an association with one another and whether those results are confounded by smoking.
In light of these findings, the links between periodontal disease and cancer remain strong in some areas, such as oral cancer, and weak in others, such as gastric cancers. It’s crucial for researchers to find the factors affecting the association, and dentists need to be proactive with their patients about their oral care and periodontal disease. For more information, contact Dr. Ruth Roach Morgan and Dr. Jessica Morgan Vaughn at Dental Solutions of Mississippi in Canton, MS, for an appointment.