Can Gum Disease Lead to Cancer in Senior Women?

Tamera Jackson by Tamera Jackson | Licensed since 2007
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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A recent study suggests gum disease may be linked to a higher risk of cancer in older women.

Possible link between gum disease and cancer

A recent study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention suggests that older women with gum disease may have a higher risk for melanoma, breast cancer, lung cancer, and esophagus cancer. The study focused on periodontal disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, periodontal disease (or “periodontitis”) is a more severe form of gum disease that occurs when harmful bacteria causes gums to pull away from teeth and form “pockets” that become infected. Left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to tissue, bone, and gum damage, and the teeth may need to be extracted.

According to a Reuters report, the study found that older women with periodontal gum disease:

  • Had a 14% higher risk of developing cancer compared to those without gum disease.
  • Were 73% more likely to get gallbladder cancer.
  • Were three times more likely to get esophagus cancer.
  • Were 31% more likely to develop lung tumors.
  • Were 23% more likely to develop melanoma.
  • Were 13% more likely to develop breast tumors.

Caveats of study on gum disease and cancer

However, the Reuters report also points out certain limitations in the study: for example, the study wasn’t a controlled experiment intended to prove whether poor oral health causes cancer. In addition, study participants self-reported their gum disease, leaving room for errors or omission. According to the study’s author, Jean Wactawski-Wende, the research points to gum disease having “an association with cancer … although not certain, maintaining optimal oral hygiene may help reduce the risk of developing cancer.”

In other words, the precise relationship between gum disease and cancer remains inconclusive, and it’s too soon to say that gum disease definitively causes cancer.

Preventing gum disease

Good oral habits have a benefit regardless of the link to cancer. Gum disease can lead to a host of other health issues, including loose teeth and eventual tooth extractions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), untreated tooth decay and gum disease can lead to dental abscess and a potentially fatal infection.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), gum disease often starts off in its milder form, gingivitis, before developing into periodontal gum disease. This form of gum disease can be treated by brushing and flossing daily and seeing a dentist regularly for cleanings.

According to the NIH, certain factors may increase your risk for gum disease:

  • Having certain health conditions, including diabetes and AIDS
  • Medications that affect the amount of saliva in your mouth
  • Genetic factors
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Being a smoker (smoking is one of the most significant factors associated with the development of gum disease)

Take a look at this article for tips on preventing gum disease with good dental hygiene habits.

Seeing a dentist regularly is an important way to prevent gum disease. Would you like help exploring plan options that help with dental costs? I’d be glad to answer any questions you may have. Click on the link below if you’d like to receive an email from me with more information; or, use the link just next to it to set up a time to discuss your questions via phone. The Compare Plans button lets you start browsing plan options right away.

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