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Gum Disease May Increase Cancer Risk

Periodontitis, advanced gum disease caused by bacterial infection that damages the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth, may be linked to higher risk of certain cancers, according to a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study, led by Tufts’ epidemiologist Dominique Michaud, ScD, analyzed data from dental exams of nearly 7,500 black and white older adults, and compared periodontal disease severity with incident cancers and cancer deaths during an average of 15 years of follow-up.

Participants with severe periodontitis had a 24 percent higher risk of developing cancer, and those with no teeth at baseline had a 28 percent higher risk, compared with those with no or mild gum disease. People with severe periodontal disease had more than double the risk of developing lung cancer, and elevated risks were also noted for colorectal cancer. Participants who had lost all their teeth to gum disease had 80 percent higher colon cancer risk. Because such associations can be caused by a history of smoking, the authors also looked only at people who had never smoked; even in this subgroup, those with severe periodontitis had a significantly higher cancer risk than those with no periodontitis. Associations were stronger among white than black participants, with the exception of lung and colorectal cancers, where a similar association was seen in both groups. No associations were observed for breast, prostate, or lymphatic cancer risk. The researchers suggest additional research to see if preventing and treating periodontal disease can reduce cancer incidence. Meanwhile, these findings reinforce the importance of seeing a dentist regularly to keep your teeth and gums healthy(1).

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Because gum (periodontal) disease is usually painless and slow to progress, it can easily reach an advanced stage before you notice any problems. This can result in deterioration of gums and bone structure and eventually tooth loss.

Removing plaque through daily brushing and flossing as well as scheduling regular dental appointments for professional cleaning are the best ways to minimize your risk for gum disease. If necessary, your dentist can design a personalized program of home oral care to meet your needs.

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While regular dental exams are necessary to remove tartar and detect early signs of gum disease, oral health begins by properly caring for your teeth and gums at home. Here are some measures you can take to prevent gum disease and keep your teeth for a lifetime:

🦷Brush for two to three minutes, at least twice a day, with fluoridated toothpaste. Be sure to brush along the gumline.

🦷Floss daily to remove plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. Don’t like to floss? Try a floss holder, which can make it easier to insert floss between teeth.

🦷Although not a substitute for brushing and flossing, a mouth rinse can reduce plaque up to 20 percent.

NOTE:Β I recommend avoiding mouthwashes containing alcohol, Chlorine Dioxide, Chlorhexidine, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Parabens, Poloxamer 407, Formaldehyde, and Saccharin. Some of these ingredients destroy your oral microbiome and/or potentially increase your risk of cancer.

🦷Eat a healthy diet. Starchy and sugary foods increase plaque, and only a healthy diet provides the nutrients necessary (vitamins A and C, in particular) to prevent gum disease.

🦷Avoid cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, which may contribute to gum disease and oral cancer.
Be aware that certain medications can also aggravate gum disease, including oral contraceptives, antidepressants and heart medicines.

🦷Exercise preventive care and schedule regular checkups β€” the surest way to detect early signs of periodontal disease.

🦷Have your dentist correct problems, such as faulty fillings, crowded teeth or teeth-grinding.

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You should visit your dentist regularly to have your teeth professionally cleaned. Although regular brushing and flossing will keep plaque in check, only your dentist has the tools necessary to remove tartar (also known as calculus) that may have built up on your teeth. In addition, regular checkups can help your dentist monitor your oral health and identify and prevent problems before they require more comprehensive or expensive treatment.

🦷Ask your dentist to discuss your gum health during your regular visit.

🦷Ask your dentist to design a personalized program of home oral care to meet your needs.

🦷Children also should be examined for gum disease.

🦷Contact your dentist immediately if you experience any warning signs of gum disease such as red, swollen or tender gums, bleeding while brushing or flossing, gums that pull away from teeth, loose or separating teeth or persistent bad breath(2).

Sources:
(1)Β Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, Dec. 2018.
(2)Β Delta Dental, courtesy of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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