As patients of Dr. Paul Lawrence know, recent studies have found surprising connections between our oral health and overall health. From increasing our risk of everything from heart disease to stroke to diabetes, researchers have found that gum disease and tooth loss present a very real risk to our long-term health. However, the results of a new study suggest that maintaining oral health may even be more important than ever before.
New research from Finland has found a connection between gum disease and the development of certain types of cancers. Even more troubling, this connection has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer-related death.
A Holistic Health Connection
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease and periodontitis, results in the inflammation of the soft tissues that surround and support the base of our teeth.
In the disease’s more advanced stages, periodontitis can lead to the destruction of the underlying bone structure and gum tissues that holds our teeth into position, leading to permanent tooth loss.
Gum disease ranks as a widespread problem that impacts the lives of billons of people worldwide. Roughly 47 percent of adults 30 and older in the U.S. suffer from some degree of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gum disease only becomes more problematic with age, as 70 percent of seniors 65 and older in the U.S. suffer from the disease.
If living with inflamed gum tissue and with the risk of experiencing permanent tooth loss wasn’t enough, researchers from the University of Helsinki have found that the bacteria commonly associated with the development of gum disease might also be linked to the development of certain types of cancer – specifically pancreatic cancer.
The results of this latest study were published in the British Journal of Cancer and show that Treponema denticola, one of the types of bacteria most responsible for the development of gum disease, may also be linked to cancer risk.
Oral Bacteria and Cancer Risk
Researchers involved in the study noted that Treponema denticola and certain types of gastrointestinal cancers, like pancreatic cancer, share a common enzyme: Treponema denticola chymotrypsin-like proteinase (Td-CTLP).
This enzyme, which researchers have found in certain types of cancerous tumor cells, is usually found in the mouth as acts as the primary “boosting” agent responsible for the development of gum disease.
To determine this connection, researchers examined the molecular mechanisms at work that could explain the link between the bacteria responsible for the development of periodontal disease and the development of cancerous tumors located in other areas of the body.
Researchers discovered that Td-CTLP can stimulate other enzymes in the body that cancer cells use like a vehicle that enables them to attack previously healthy cells. Researchers also found that Td-CTLP can have an effect on the body’s ability to regulate carcinogenesis. This means the Td-CTLP enzyme has the potential to interfere with the immune system’s ability to fight cancer-friendly enzymes during the earliest stages of the disease.
Increased Mortality Rate
In addition to examining the connection between gum disease and cancer risk, researchers also conducted an additional study that looked at the link between gum disease and cancer-related mortality.
The new study found a surprising connection between the two.
As part of the study, researchers analyzed data collected on over 68,000 adults over a 10-year period. What they discovered was a strong connection between deaths caused as a result of pancreatic cancer and gum disease.
Looking at the combined data provided by both studies, researchers concluded that the inflammation associated with gum disease may make it easier for harmful oral bacteria to travel to other parts of the body, allowing the virulence of enzymes such as Td-CTLP to increase and boost the development of cancerous cells.
“These studies have demonstrated for the first time that the virulence factors of the central pathogenic bacteria underlying gum disease are able to spread from the mouth to other parts of the body, most likely in conjunction with the bacteria, and take part in central mechanism of tissue destruction related to cancer,” wrote researchers.
For these and many other reasons, Dr. Paul Lawrence hopes all of his patients at McKinney Smiles to pay more attention to their oral health. Since the prevention of oral disease can also mean lowering your risk for serious health concerns such as cancer, enjoying a lifetime of quality health means needing to pay more attention to the current state of your smile.