What Your Teeth and Gums Say About Your Health

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By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

Want to avoid cancer? Consider brushing and flossing more often.

Why? Folks with bad gums might be at higher risk of developing certain types of cancer, new research suggests.

A history of gum disease appears to increase the risk of stomach cancer by 52% and throat cancer by 43%, according to data from two major long-term health studies.

People who’d lost two or more teeth also had an increased risk of cancer — 33% for stomach cancer and 42% for throat cancer — compared with people who never lost a tooth, the researchers reported.

“Participants with periodontal disease and a higher number of teeth lost had a higher risk of developing the two gastrointestinal cancers, even after adjusting for other major risk factors,” said senior researcher Mingyang Song. He’s an assistant professor of clinical epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

If these findings pan out, then a great many people in the United States could be at increased risk for these cancers. Nearly half of adults aged 30 and older have gum disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the study, the researchers analyzed health data gathered from tens of thousands of health professionals during two long-term studies — including over 98,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and over 49,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

During 22 to 28 years of follow-up, participants developed 199 cases of throat cancer and 238 cases of stomach cancer.

Overall, people with any history of gum disease had a 59% increased risk of throat cancer compared with people who’d never had periodontal disease, regardless of whether they’d lost teeth or not, the findings showed.

There was some difference when looking at stomach cancer. People with gum disease who lost no teeth had a 50% increased risk of stomach cancer, while those who’d lost one or more teeth had a 68% increased risk.

Peter Campbell is scientific director of epidemiology research for the American Cancer Society. He said, “The mouth, esophagus and stomach are all connected, of course, and they’re important components of the digestive system. It’s not surprising to see that a marker for illness of one organ is connected to another illness, such as cancer, further down the [gastrointestinal] tract.”

Song said that the inflammation caused by gum disease might be one factor that increases cancer risk.

“People with periodontal disease tend to have higher systemic inflammation, which is one of the underlying mechanisms of cancer development,” he explained.

It’s also possible that bad oral health promotes the growth of bacteria in the mouth and gums that could contribute to cancer, Song and Campbell noted.

“From this study, and others like it,” Campbell said, “it seems that some of the same bacteria and related pathogens that lead to tooth loss and gum disease are also associated with tumors in the stomach and esophagus.”

The cancer risk related to gum disease in this study was independent of tobacco use, which means that smokers with poor oral health might face an even higher risk of these gastrointestinal cancers, Song added.

And it’s possible that the longer you have bad gums, the more likely your cancer risk will increase, Song and Campbell suggested.

“It certainly seems plausible that having a longer duration of periodontal disease would be associated with even higher risks of these cancers,” Campbell said. “Some of that association may be explained by simply being older, which in itself is a strong risk factor, but we tend to account for that issue pretty well.”

If you have a history of bad gums and want to reduce your potential cancer risk, Campbell recommends seeing a dentist regularly, taking good care of your oral health, learning the signs and symptoms of cancer, and undergoing all age-appropriate cancer screenings.

Song and Campbell both also called for more study into this possible cancer risk, including clinical trials.

The new study was published July 20 in the journal Gut.

Copyright © 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

What Your Teeth and Gums Say About Your Health

Can Mouth Bacteria Affect the Heart?

 

Some studies show that people with gum disease are more likely to have heart disease than those with healthy gums. Researchers aren’t sure why that is; gum disease isn’t proven to cause other diseases. But it makes sense to take care of your mouth like you do the rest of your body.

Gum Disease and Diabetes

 

Diabetes can reduce the body’s resistance to infection. Elevated blood sugars increase the risk of developing gum disease. What’s more, gum disease can make it harder to keep blood sugar levels in check. Protect your gums by keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. Brush after each meal and floss and rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash daily. See your dentist at least twice a year. Sometimes you dentists may want to see you more often.

Dry Mouth and Tongue Cause Tooth Decay

 

The 4 million Americans who have Sjögren’s syndrome are more prone to have oral health problems, too. With Sjögren’s, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks tear ducts and saliva glands, leading to chronically dry eyes and dry mouth (called xerostomia). Saliva helps protect teeth and gums from bacteria that cause cavities and gingivitis. So a perpetually dry mouth is more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.

Medications That Cause Dry Mouth

 

Given that a chronically dry mouth raises risk of cavities and gum disease, you may want to check your medicine cabinet. Antihistamines, decongestants, painkillers, and antidepressants are among the drugs that can cause dry mouth. Talk to your doctor or dentist to find out if your medication regimen is affecting your oral health, and what you can do about it.

Stress and Teeth Grinding

 

If you are stressed, anxious, or depressed, you may be at higher risk for oral health problems. People under stress produce high levels of the hormone cortisol, which wreaks havoc on the gums and body. Stress also leads to poor oral care; more than 50% of people don’t brush or floss regularly when stressed. Other stress-related habits include smoking, drinking alcohol, and clenching and grinding teeth (called bruxism).

Osteoporosis and Tooth Loss

 

The brittle bone disease osteoporosis affects all the bones in your body — including your jaw bone — and can cause tooth loss. Bacteria from periodontitis, which is severe gum disease, can also break down the jaw bone. One kind of osteoporosis medication — bisphosphonates — may slightly increase the risk of a rare condition called osteonecrosis, which causes bone death of the jaw. This is usually only a concern after involved dental surgery. Tell your dentist if you take bisphosphonates.

Pale Gums and Anemia

 

Your mouth may be sore and pale if you’re anemic, and your tongue can become swollen and smooth (glossitis). When you have anemia, your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells, or your red blood cells don’t contain enough hemoglobin. As a result, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. There are different types of anemia, and treatment varies. Talk to your doctor to find out what type you have and how to treat it.

Eating Disorders Erode Tooth Enamel

 

A dentist may be the first to notice signs of an eating disorder such as bulimia. The stomach acid from repeated vomiting can severely erode tooth enamel. Purging can also trigger swelling in the mouth, throat, and salivary glands as well as bad breath. Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders can also cause serious nutritional shortfalls that can affect the health of your teeth.

Thrush and HIV

 

People with HIV or AIDS may develop oral thrush, oral warts, fever blisters, canker sores, and hairy leukoplakia, which are white or gray patches on the tongue or the inside of the cheek. The body’s weakened immune system and its inability to stave off infections are to blame. People with HIV/AIDS may also experience dry mouth, which increases the risk of tooth decay and can make chewing, eating, swallowing, or talking difficult.

Treating Gum Disease May Help RA

 

People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are eight times more likely to have gum disease than people without this autoimmune disease. Inflammation may be the common denominator between the two. Making matters worse: people with RA can have trouble brushing and flossing because of damage to finger joints. The good news is that treating existing gum inflammation and infection can also reduce joint pain and inflammation.

Tooth Loss and Kidney Disease

 

Adults without teeth may be more likely to have chronic kidney disease than those who still have teeth. Exactly how kidney disease and periodontal disease are linked is not 100% clear yet. But researchers suggest that chronic inflammation may be the common thread. So taking care of your teeth and gums may reduce your risk of developing chronic kidney problems.

Gum Disease and Premature Birth

 

If you’re pregnant and have gum disease, you could be more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small. Exactly how the two conditions are linked remains poorly understood. Underlying inflammation or infections may be to blame. Pregnancy and its related hormonal changes also appear to worsen gum disease. Talk to your obstetrician or dentist to find out how to protect yourself and your baby.

What Healthy Gums Look Like

 

Healthy gums should look pink and firm, not red and swollen. To keep gums healthy, practice good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss at least once a day, rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash once or twice a day, see your dentist regularly, and avoid smoking or chewing tobacco.

 

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