Gum Disease and Cancer: The Connection is Stronger Than You Think
It’s no secret that cancer is a ruthless disease and it can start just about anywhere in the body before spreading. Unfortunately, some cancers are linked to oral health, specifically when there’s a presence of gum disease.
Oral health isn’t limited to proper brushing and flossing and the effects of poor oral hygiene don’t only show up in the mouth. It’s become increasingly clear over the past few years that oral health is more crucial to overall health than initially thought, especially when it comes to preventing cancer. But do you know what to look for and how you can prevent cancer as you go through your regular oral hygiene routine at home? Read our quick guide to identifying and preventing the signs of gum disease, so you can avoid cancer in the future.
What is periodontitis?
Gum disease, or periodontitis, is a condition wherein the gums or the tissue surrounding the base of the teeth become inflamed. In severe cases, it can even lead to the deterioration of the gums and damage to the bones holding the teeth in place.
Unlike mild gum disease or gingivitis, periodontitis can cause bone and tissue loss in the mouth due to severe buildup of harmful bacteria along the gum line. On its own, bacteria can either be good or bad, and naturally occurs in the body. In fact, a healthy amount of bacteria inhabit the mouth. These are called oral biofilm and can help protect you through natural immunity responses. But when this balance of healthy bacteria is disturbed, the oral biofilm produces pathogens which can cause gum disease.
Pathogens can also enter the bloodstream and, as the immune system is alerted to their presence, cause inflammation and signal the liver to produce reactive proteins. This reaction allows bacteria to attach themselves, leading to plaque formation inside the linings of the blood vessels.
Gum Disease and Cancer
But what does gum disease have to do with cancer? New research on the subject has shown that the bacteria that causes periodontitis can also cause certain types of cancer, such as pancreatic cancer. This bacteria, Treponema denticola, is composed of an enzyme, the Treponema denticola chymotrypsin-like proteinase (Td-CTLP), which has also been found in some types of gastrointestinal cancer. Td-CTLP is typically found in the mouth and acts as the primary boosting agent that causes gum disease. Furthermore, the inflammation caused by gum disease makes it easier for harmful bacteria to travel to the rest of the body and act as a booster for cancer cells.
Long-term Effects of Gum Disease
According to dentists and other healthcare professionals, gum disease is the body’s largest source of low-grade chronic inflammation. Because of its low-grade status, it doesn’t raise red flags right away, but causes a decline in the body’s immune system response over time, which can then become irreversible. Poor immune system response has also been known to increase the risk of cancer development.
But there’s good news! Gum disease is treatable and reversible once a dentist is able to spot the symptoms. This is why routine dental checkups and cleanings are so important. Dentists are trained to check for and identify plaque formation and unbalanced oral biofilm. By spotting these signs and treating gum disease early on, dentists can help arrest the effects of gum disease and prevent it from worsening.
Signs of Gum Disease
While gum disease can be treated and its effects reversed, it isn’t always easy to detect. Periodontitis is known to cause chronic but low-grade inflammation, so a lot of patients don’t usually notice significant symptoms.
That’s why it’s important to pay attention to everything that happens in your mouth, including minor or harmless-looking changes. Here are the top 8 signs of gum disease to watch out for:
- Red and swollen or tender gums, accompanied by pain in the mouth.
- Gums that bleed even without experiencing trauma. For example while brushing, flossing, or eating.
- Persistent bad breath, despite regular brushing and flossing.
- Gums that appear to pull away or recede from the teeth, in some cases making the teeth appear longer than they were before.
- Pus between the gums and teeth.
- Constant sores in the mouth.
- Changes in bite, or how the upper and lower teeth fit together upon biting.
- Loosening permanent teeth and/or dentures.
Good Oral Hygiene Habits—Your Best Defence
Despite gum disease being treatable and reversible, a lot of dentists still see advanced symptoms and effects in patients.
This could be easily preventable with proper oral hygiene habits at home and regular visits to the dentist. While brushing and flossing are the most important habits, it takes a dentist’s trained eye and experience to spot the signs of gum disease and treat it accordingly. It’s also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle overall. This includes avoiding sugary and acidic foods that can speed up the buildup of plaque-causing bacteria, managing stress with regular exercise to avoid unhealthy habits like clenching and grinding teeth, as well as promote better circulation to strengthen the immune system.
If you notice any signs of gum disease, it’s important to book an appointment to see your dentist right away. For gingivitis, dentists recommend a professional cleaning and a stricter regimen of brushing and flossing to easily reverse the disease. To treat severe gum disease, dentists have to employ scaling and deep cleaning techniques all the way down to the roots of affected teeth to remove large buildups of plaque beneath the gum line. Our dentists at Dawson Dental are expertly trained and highly experienced in treating oral health issues and promoting better overall health.
Dawson Dental offers expert dental care to treat gum disease and prevent the development of cancer. Call us at 1-877-308-8105 or contact us here to book an appointment with one of our dentists.