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Advanced Gum Disease May Raise Cancer Risk

Study Shows Link Between Periodontitis and Risk of Head and Neck Cancer
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

gum_disease_head_neck_cancer_2.jpg

Sept. 8, 2009 -- Taking care of your teeth and gums may not only save your smile, it could save your life. A new study suggests a common form of gum disease may significantly raise the risk of head and neck cancer.

Researchers found that people diagnosed with head and neck cancers were much more likely to have chronic periodontitis than people without cancer. Periodontitis is advanced gum disease that leads to progressive loss of bone and soft tissue that surround the teeth.

In fact, each millimeter of bone loss due to chronic periodontitis was associated with a more than four times higher risk of head and neck cancer, after taking into account other known risk factors such as smoking.

Researchers say the results may help explain why head and neck cancer rates continue to climb although smoking rates have been declining for the last 40 years.

The study also adds to a growing body of research that shows chronic inflammation and infection can affect the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other health problems.

The study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, compared rates of periodontitis in 226 people with head and neck cancer and a comparison group of 207 people without cancer.

The results showed that each millimeter of bone loss due to chronic periodontitis was associated with a greater than fourfold higher risk of head and neck cancer. The link between gum disease and cancer was strongest among people with cancers of the mouth, followed by cancers of the oropharynx (back of the mouth and throat) and larynx (voice box).

When the researchers looked at the link between periodontitis and head and neck cancers according to tobacco use, researchers say they were surprised to find it was weaker in current smokers compared with former smokers and those who had never smoked.

"Confirmatory studies with more comprehensive assessment of smoking, such as duration, quantity and patterns of use, as well as smokeless tobacco history are needed," says researcher Mine Tezal, DDS, PhD, assistant professor at the school of dental medicine at the University of Buffalo, in a news release.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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