The Undeniable Link between Cancer and Gum Disease

Your oral health is essential for so many reasons. You want to take care of your teeth to talk, chew, and have a beautiful smile. Your oral hygiene is also crucial to prevent conditions such as cavities and gum disease. 

But did you realize your oral health is also important for cancer prevention? There is an undeniable link between cancers and gum disease. Studies have shown that gum disease not only affects your oral health, but if gum disease progresses, it can be linked to different types of cancers.

What is Gum Disease?

The infection in your gums is termed periodontal gum disease or gum disease for short. The gums hold your teeth in place. There is a healthy layer of gum tissue surrounding the teeth, the more swollen and inflamed gums get, the less protection your teeth have. 

The gums will start to have less coverage on the base of the teeth. When there is less coverage, it is called gum recession. 

Gum recession is a stage of gum disease. As the inflammation and infection continue, the gums start to recess. This gum recession exposes your teeth more, which makes the teeth more vulnerable. 

As gum disease progresses, if there is minimal gum protection on the teeth, the damage can become irreversible. At this later stage of gum disease, tooth loss can occur. 

Gum Disease Symptoms

Gum disease starts with mild inflammation, known as gingivitis. You may notice that when you are brushing your teeth, your gums bleed. The bleeding may also happen after you floss your teeth. 

The good news is that gingivitis can resolve when you improve your oral hygiene. However, if your oral hygiene habits remain poor, gingivitis then progresses into a more moderate and significant form of gum disease. The symptoms will become more visible to you. Gum disease symptoms start mild, and then the effects of gum disease begin to worsen. Here is a list of symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

Gum Disease Symptoms

  • Bleeding after brushing your teeth
  • Bleeding after flossing your teeth
  • Swollen or red gums
  • Sensitive teeth to hot or cold food/drinks
  • Painful teeth, progressing from mild sensitive teeth
  • Pain with chewing
  • Bad Breath
  • Teeth appear longer (due to gum loss), gum recession
  • Change in how your teeth fit together when the top and bottom teeth are touching
  • Loose teeth
  • Infection/pus in the mouth
  • Teeth loss

Terminology: Periodontitis & Periodontal Disease

Sometimes the dental language can be confusing. A lot of words are interchangeable. With regards to gum disease, the beginning stage is often termed gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums. 

Words such as mild and moderate can be used to describe the gingivitis. As the gingivitis progresses to severe, this stage of gum disease is often termed periodontitis. Sometimes you will see it termed severe gum disease, or you may see it as periodontal disease. 

Often, you just need to see the description of the words, mild, moderate, or severe to know what level of gum disease it is referring to.

Couple smiling with teeth in good shape

Gum Disease Prevention 

The best step you can take for gum disease prevention is to make sure you establish daily oral hygiene routines. In past articles, we have mentioned good oral hygiene tips, here are a few listed below.

  1. Brush your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush approved by the ADA. The soft bristles protect your gums while cleaning your teeth. Bristles that are moderate or hard will be too damaging to the gums. In fact, moderate or hard tooth bristles can do more harm than good.  
  2. The way you brush your teeth matter. Some people find themselves stressed out when they are either getting ready for their day or finishing their night, which is when teeth are brushed. If you feel you brush your teeth aggressively, one tip is to use your less dominant hand. It’s more challenging to brush aggressively with your less dominant hand, and this can prevent “traumatic tooth brushing.”
  3. Keep your toothbrush angled at 45 degrees while brushing, using short back and forth strokes.
  4. Use 18 inches of dental floss daily while flossing. This long strand of floss ensures you get a new section of floss for each new area between the teeth.  
  5. Wait 30 minutes after eating before you brush your teeth. Saliva is produced during and after eating. This saliva is an excellent layer of protection and layer of mineralization for your teeth enamel.
  6. If you do smoke, read about tips here to quit smoking
  7. Schedule your dental cleanings twice a year or sooner if you have any dental discomfort. Dental professionals are the first line of defense in oral disease prevention. 

Cancers Linked to Gum Disease

Unfortunately, many cancers have been specifically linked to gum disease. The first one seems more obvious as it is oral cancer. Mouth cancer has long been known to be linked to severe gum disease. 

Lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and colorectal cancers may come as a shock. These cancers have been researched, and the news is quite astounding.

What is Oral Cancer?

In 2019, nearly 53,000 new cases of oral cancer were reported in the USA. Oral cancer refers to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, throat, tongue, and tonsils. There are a few leading causes of oral cancers, including heavy alcohol use, any type of tobacco use, sun exposure, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and gum disease. 

Combining any of the conditions above with gum disease increases the risk of oral cancer.

Oral gum cancer is commonly associated with severe gum disease. Gum cancer can mimic severe gum disease with the lesions inside the mouth, which is another reason to seek out dental care if any concerns arise. 

The lesions on the mouth typically look like irregular growths or bumps. The cancerous lesions are often red or white on the gums.

The Good News: Gum cancer is highly curable if it is found early!

Gum cancer is treated by removing the tumors and often the surrounding tissue. Sometimes the surrounding bone is removed. Chemotherapy or radiation may also be part of the treatment depending on the size and location. But as mentioned above, early treatment leads to highly curable gum cancer. 

Your dentist is the first line of defense for gum cancer and gum disease. They can assess and visualize any abnormalities in the mouth and biopsy if necessary. The earlier cancer is detected, the better the outcome.

Why Are Cancers Linked to Gum Disease?

As the periodontal inflammation persists and grows, so does the number of oral bacteria. The oral bacteria affects both the mouth locally and the rest of the body systemically. 

There are two ways cancer is thought to be linked to gum disease:

The bacteria from the mouth spreads throughout the body.

The immune system begins changing and weakening due to having a significant amount of mouth bacteria and inflammation.

The Evidence

Multiple studies have shown a correlation between cancer and gum disease. 

In one study, there was a 24% higher risk of cancer with patients who had severe gum disease. For the patients in the study that had tooth loss from gum disease, their cancer risk was 28% higher. This study compared patients with severe gum disease to those without severe periodontitis. 

Lung cancer was connected to gum disease in 5 different studies total. Many of these studies factored in a secondary risk from smokers. As it is well known that smoking will worsen any form of gum disease. It is also well documented that smoking has detrimental effects on the lungs.

The majority of these studies showed a connection between lung cancer and gum disease when the patients were smokers. Mixing in the inflammation and bacteria from gum disease, with the harmful effects of smoking, will significantly impact the risk of lung cancer.

The same research study above also demonstrated evidence that there was an increased risk for developing colorectal cancer when gum disease is severe.

Kidney, blood cancers, and pancreatic cancers were evaluated in a study that suggested a small but possible increased risk in these cancers with gum disease. The research is continuing in this area.

Research is beginning to mount more evidence between gum disease and an increased risk of specific types of cancers.

Most of this research is new and groundbreaking. 

But the link is undeniable.

Cancer and gum disease have been linked. Your oral hygiene is the key to your prevention.

One of the most important messages you can take away from this article is that you can prevent severe gum disease. When you prevent gum disease, you are taking away the increased risk of the cancers mentioned above. This is a valuable message. Gum disease can be prevented with proper oral hygiene and regularly scheduled visits with your dentist.

We are here to help you. VIPcare Dental is trained in oral cancer screenings, and we are available to answer any questions you may have about your dental care or concerns.

Knowing that severe gum disease increases your risk of cancer is scary. However, you can take charge of your dental health. You can seek out any of our professional staff as we are firm believers that preventative medicine is the best form of medicine. Take charge of your oral health today! Head to our locations page and choose from one of the many VIPcare Dental clinics.