The scientific link between gum disease and cancer
(Naturalhealth365) Gum disease, or periodontitis, is characterized by inflammation or infection in the tissues of the gums. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gum disease affects almost half of all people over 30 in the United States, and becomes more widespread as people age – affecting over 70 percent of Americans 65 and over.
Now, a number of recent studies from Scandinavia (as well as the U.S.) have revealed a disturbing link between gum disease and serious health problems like, autoimmune disorders and many forms of cancer. Fortunately, there are solutions.
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Did you know that a gum disease pathogen has been implicated in pancreatic cancer?
In a study published in British Journal of Cancer, researchers reported that Trepenoma denticola, the bacteria responsible for periodontitis, may cause pancreatic cancer as well. One of the deadliest forms of this disease, pancreatic cancer claims over 44,000 lives a year.
Researchers noted that the Trepenoma bacterium shares a particular enzyme with some cancers found in the gastrointestinal tract. This enzyme, called Treponema denticola chymotrypsin-like proteinase – or Td-CTLP – is usually found in the mouth, where it is known to promote the development of gum disease.
But, it has also been observed in cancerous tumors.
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In a destructive chain reaction, Td-CTLP activates still other enzymes – which also promote cancer. These include substances called matrix metalloproteinases, or MMPS, which degrade intercellular material and cell membranes and make it easier for cancer to invade healthy tissue.
The study was the first to show that virulence factors from gum disease bacteria could spread from the mouth to other parts of the body, and take part in central mechanisms of cancer-related tissue destruction.
The study was led by Professor Timo Sorsa, who helmed an international team of researchers from the University of Helsinki, Helsinki University Hospital and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Supplementary research, also led by Prof. Sorsa, supported the study’s findings. In a study published in International Journal of Cancer, researchers evaluated 68,000 participants and found a strong association between gum disease and death by pancreatic cancer.
Periodontal disease is tied to an elevated risk of cancer, especially in mature women
And, pancreatic cancer may not be the only cancer spurred on by gum disease. In a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, researchers found that women with gum disease are more likely to develop cancers of the esophagus, breast and gallbladder.
The study, which involved over 65,000 women aged 54 to 86, was led by Jean Wactawski-Wende, Ph.D., from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
The team found that having gum disease raised general cancer risk by 14 percent.
And, when it came to esophageal cancer, women with gum disease were three times more likely to develop the disease. Researchers believe that this is due to the proximity of the esophagus to the gums, allowing pathogens to infect the esophageal mucosa – thereby promoting cancer.
The study also found that gum disease raised the risk of gallbladder cancer.
Gum disease is linked to diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis
Gum disease can raise the odds of diseases other than cancer. In fact, it often serves as an indicator of prediabetes and diabetes.
In one study, patients with gum disease were found to have higher HbA1c levels – which determine average blood sugar level in the body for the previous two to three months.
The bright side is that a diagnosis of gum disease can be a tip-off to the presence of diabetes. This can lead to early treatment – which in turn can help ward off devastating diabetes consequences such as high blood pressure, cataracts and heart disease.
People with gum disease also have a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis – a chronic degenerative autoimmune disease in which tissues around the joints are attacked by the body’s own immune system.
Studies have shown that patients with more severe gum disease tend to have more severe RA as well. Patients with gum disease that led to loss of jawbone also had RA-associated bone erosions in their joints.
And – just as with the pancreatic cancer research – the team found that bacteria from gum disease could show up in other parts of the body. In a review published in Current Opinion in Rheumatology, researchers found the primary pathogen that causes gum disease in both gum tissue and the synovial fluid of RA patients.
Fortunately, treatment of gum disease can cut the inflammatory burden on the body, and improve both conditions at once.
The takeaway: these studies – which show that the low-grade systemic infection and inflammation of periodontitis can facilitate the spread of bacteria throughout the body – spotlight the importance of oral health. As Prof. Sorsa reports, prevention of oral diseases may also mean prevention of more serious health outcomes – including cancer.
Sources for this article include:
Cancer & Heart Disease
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