Women with gum disease are 14% more likely to develop cancer than those with healthy teeth and gums, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The link appears to be strongest for esophageal cancer, but associations were also found between poor oral health and lung, gallbladder, breast, and skin cancer.
The study looked at data from nearly 66,000 postmenopausal women, ages 54 to 86, who were followed for about eight years. At the start of the study, they completed a health survey and reported whether they had ever been diagnosed with periodontal disease, an inflammation off the gums that can lead to tooth loss.
Gum disease is caused by sticky, bacteria-laden plaque that forms on teeth. In the early stages, known as gingivitis, the gums can be swollen and bleed easily. Daily flossing and brushing can usually reverse gingivitis. If plaque is left on teeth, it can progress to periodontal disease, which is inflammation around the teeth that causes gums to pull away and form pockets, which can trap more food and bacteria. With time, the bacteria, inflammation, and body’s immune reaction can damage teeth and supporting bone structures, which can lead to tooth loss.
During the study’s follow-up period, about 7,100 of those women developed cancer. Overall, those with a history of periodontal disease were more than three times as likely to develop esophageal cancer—and nearly twice as likely to develop gallbladder cancer—than women without. Their risk for lung cancer, skin melanomas, and breast cancer was also increased by 31%, 23%, and 13%, respectively.