New Study Links the Risk of Gum Disease to Premature Death from Cancer

Published:June 13th, 2012


A new study recently published in the British Medical Journal Open, has raised the possibility of a link between premature death from cancer and dental plaque. Dental plaque is made up of plaque bacteria which gradually multiply throughout the day and cover the surfaces of the teeth and gums. Most of this plaque is removed through brushing and flossing, but bacteria left on the surface of the teeth can cause inflammation, eventually leading to gum disease.

The study took place over a 24 year period in Sweden, and involved 1,400 study participants. When the study began in 1985, the participants were aged in their 30s and 40s, and at the beginning they were all interviewed to assess lifestyle factors which could potentially increase their risk of developing cancer. These included whether or not they smoked, and income levels. Their oral hygiene levels were assessed to discover whether any teeth had been lost, and levels of dental plaque and gum disease.

The study ended in 2009, and by this stage 58 people had died from cancer. Just over a third were women, and the average age for death for women was 61, while for the men the average age of death from cancer was just 60. The women could reasonably have been expected to live for another 13 years or so, while the men should have had another 8.5 years of life, which according to the authors of the study indicates their deaths were premature. Most of the deaths in women were caused by breast cancer, while deaths in men could be attributed to a range of different cancers.

The dental plaque index was assessed throughout the study, and was found to be higher in those who had died from cancer than in those who had survived. Age was also found to be a factor in increasing the risk for cancer, which is hardly surprising. However what is more surprising is that being a man increased the odds of dying prematurely from cancer by an amazing 90%. The study did its best to take into account a range of factors which could account for premature death, but could still find an association between dental plaque and death from cancer.

Although the research found that dental plaque significantly increase the risk of suffering from premature death, the absolute risk was really quite low, considering how few people had died from cancer by the end of the study. The authors also pointed out that although the hypothesis of their study was confirmed, in that it shows that poor oral hygiene could be associated with increased risk of death from cancer, a causal link has yet to be found. Further studies are needed to establish whether there really is a causal link between the two.

The mere fact that there could be a link between the two conditions should be enough to prompt most people into taking better care of their oral health. This is just the latest in a long line of studies showing a link between gum disease and other serious health conditions that affect the whole body.

About the author

Alison, is a UK born and educated dental professional with over 25 years experience.

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