Many of my blog posts can be summarized with the line “research has just confirmed that gum disease is linked to X (with X being some horrible other disease, usually a type of cancer).” Unfortunately, this post will be no different. In recent years, researchers have confirmed strong links between gum cancer and osteoporosis, respiratory diseases (such as pneumonia), diabetes, heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, Alzheimers, and pregnancy problems, among other diseases. The list is almost getting hard for me to remember as it seems to be updated each month, if not more frequently, with terrible information about what gum disease can do to people if they let it go untreated.
Research has just confirmed that gum disease is linked to esophageal cancer.
This new publication comes from my alma mater, the University of Louisville, who teamed up with scientists from China to uncover that one of the main bugs associated with gum disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, is also present with esophageal cancer, and may be a risk factor for such. In biopsy samples of patients being surgically treated for esophageal cancer, the researchers found that 61% of cancerous tissue samples contained P. gingivalis bacteria and 12% of adjacent tissue samples contained the bug. No P. gingivalis was found in normal tissue samples. This is the first direct evidence of infection being a risk factor for esophageal cancer.
According to the CDC, 15,000 people in the United States are diagnosed each year with esophageal cancer. Known risk factors are chemical (primarily tobacco), diet, heredity, and age. Smoking is the biggest risk factor, and like most tobacco-related cancers, rates are dramatically lower in Orem, Utah and surrounding areas than elsewhere in the country. Gum disease is another problem altogether though and Utah has no advantage over the rest of the country with roughly a third of adults being affected by this disease.
The implications of this research could be huge, including potential screening through oral plaque to identify susceptible individuals and potential prevention of esophageal cancer through improved hygiene. No matter who you are, this study should put even more weight on the need to have good hygiene and regular dental visits to prevent gum disease from occurring in the first place. Gum disease is essentially a 100% preventable disease, but poor habits and years spent away from hygienist can lead to problems. Don’t get gum disease. Floss your teeth and schedule your next visit today!
-Nicolas K. Young, DMD