What Is the Link Between Gum Disease and Cancer Risk?

| February 7, 2018

If you’ve been neglecting your brushing and flossing, we strongly encourage you to start taking care of your oral health! Poor oral hygiene causes gum disease, and not only is gum disease bad for your overall health, it’s also been linked to cancer.

Learn what researchers have discovered about this link, what the stages of gum disease are, and how gum disease is treated.

What Is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is an infection of the tissues surrounding your teeth that’s caused by plaque. In its earliest stages, we refer to this as gingivitis. Gingivitis causes red, swollen, bleeding gums. Fortunately, this stage of the disease is reversible if you get professional care and practice good oral hygiene.

When gingivitis is allowed to progress unchecked, it becomes more severe, advancing to periodontitis. During this stage, tissue and bone begins to break down, and gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets that become infected. Over time, those pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone is destroyed. Eventually, teeth loosen and may require complete removal.

How Is Gum Disease Related to Cancer?

There have been a number of studies showing a link between cancer and gum disease. In a study of 48,000 American men between the ages of 40 and 75, researchers found that those with periodontal disease had a 14% higher likelihood of developing cancer.

Several cancers carried an even higher risk. For example, men with periodontal disease had a 36% increased risk of lung cancer, 49% increased risk of kidney cancer, a 54% greater risk of pancreatic cancer, and a 30% increased risk of white blood cell cancers.

In a similar study done on 65,869 women between the ages of 54 and 86, researchers again found that periodontal disease increased cancer risk by 14%. In particular, women showed a higher risk for cancer of the esophagus, lung cancer, gallbladder cancer, melanoma, and breast cancer.

How Is Gum Disease Treated?

In its earliest stages, gum disease can be treated by brushing twice a day for at least 2 minutes each time, flossing daily, and visiting your dentist for a thorough cleaning. Gingivitis is easily reversible.

As gingivitis advances, however, more aggressive treatments are needed. For instance, your dentist may recommend scaling and root planing. During scaling, tartar is scraped from above and below the gumline. Root planing removes rough spots on the tooth root where germs gather, helping remove bacteria contributing to the disease. Your dentist may also recommend medication, like a prescription mouthwash or oral antibiotic.

If medications or scaling and root planing don’t effectively treat the condition, oral surgery will likely be required. During flap surgery, gums are lifted back for tartar removal, then sutured around the teeth again.

Finally, some patients with advanced gum disease may require bone and tissue grafting to replace the bone and tissue they’ve lost due to periodontitis.

If you think you have gum disease—or are due for a dental checkup—please call us at 614.486.7378 or click here to access our online appointment request form. As you can see, gum disease is a condition worth taking seriously.