Gum disease significantly increases the risk of cancer in older women, according to a new study.
Researchers at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo have just released their findings from an extended study of 65,869 women, ages 54 to 86 years. The study was conducted over a period of X years. The study used data collected between 1999 and 2003, taken from questionnaires in which study participants detailed their periodontal disease history. The researchers then evaluated cancer outcomes through September 2013.
Analysis of all the data showed that a history of periodontal disease was associated with a 14% higher risk of developing any cancer.
The study also found strong correlations between periodontal disease and specific sorts of cancer. The highest risk was cancer of the esophagus — which was more than three times more likely in women with periodontal disease. Gallbladder cancer, melanoma, lung and breast cancer were also associated with significantly higher risk.
As one would expect certain cancers, such lung cancer, were seen more frequently in women who both smoked and had periodontal disease. But other cancers such as melanoma, were associated with higher risk in the women who had never smoked but did report periodontal disease.
The findings from the new study were just published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in an article entitled “Periodontal Disease and Incident Cancer Risk among Postmenopausal Women: Results from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Cohort”
“Our study findings serve to provide further evidence that periodontal disease is linked to cancer and support the need for further investigation into how periodontal disease contributes to increased cancer risk,” lead study investigator Ngozi Nwizu, Ph.D., assistant professor of oral and maxillofacial pathology at The University of Texas School of Dentistry, said.
This study is one of the few that examined periodontal disease as a risk factor for total cancer, and the only one that has focused on older women.
It is important to note that the study relies on self-reported data, so the number of participants with periodontal disease may have been underreported. That said, the large number of study participants strongly reinforce the research findings.
The mouth is home to over 600 types of bacteria—some helpful, and others harmful. Many of the harmful types thrive in the sticky biofilm called plaque, which stubbornly clings to the tooth surfaces. If they aren’t removed regularly, these microorganisms can cause tooth decay and gum disease.
There are two types of gum disease: early-stage gingivitis has occurred in 85% of the adult population, while severe gum disease (periodontitis) is believed to have affected about 12% of American adults. Periodontal disease is the major cause of tooth loss in adults and has been linked with serious health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis – and now, cancers.
The first line of defense is an effective oral hygiene routine: brushing regularly, watching your diet, and flossing at least once a day can help prevent this disease from taking hold. But sometimes that isn’t enough. When gums become painful or inflamed; if they bleed during brushing; or if you have persistent bad breath and/or a bad taste in your mouth – it’s time to see the dentist.
Symptoms like loose or shifting teeth indicate that some of the gum tissues may have already begun to detach from the teeth, an advanced stage of the disease. If you see any of these signs, you should visit your dentist or a periodontist (a dentist who specializes in treating the gums) ASAP.
The basic treatment for early stage gum disease is the thorough removal of plaque and calculus (hardened deposits of plaque) from tooth surfaces, including below the gum line around the tooth roots and bone. This procedure is called scaling and is done with special instruments called scalers, or with an ultrasonic device that vibrates the plaque loose so that it can be easily flushed away with water. Antibiotics may be applied directly to your teeth and gums as part of this process.
Your dentist may prescribe oral antibiotics and/or the use of anti-bacterial mouth rinses to reduce and control the mouth’s bacterial levels. Typically, scaling or “deep cleanings” require a series of treatments.
Treatment for gum disease is less invasive and expensive when the problem is addressed in the early stages of the disease. Untreated, the bacteria can become deeply entrenched in the gums and bone surrounding tooth roots – resulting in chronic periodontal disease. In the most severe cases, gum surgery may be necessary to address infections, and promote bone and gum tissue recovery.
A proactive oral healthcare routine – good at-home hygiene habits and regular dental checkups – is the best way to avoid gum disease and its impact on your overall health.
If you’ve been putting off getting the dental care you need due to budget concerns, consider a dental savings plan. You can reduce the cost of dental treatment by 20%-60% with a plan, and some plans include savings on fitness and nutrition services, as well as vision and hearing care and discounts on prescription medications. To find out more about dental savings plans, visit dentalplans.com or call 833-275-2661.
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