Dentist working on a patient, gums

Gum disease has been linked to heart problems. Other conditions that have been associated with periodontal inflammation include osteoporosis, pneumonia and rheumatoid arthritis. Now results from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC) show that people with serious gum disease are 24 percent more likely to develop cancer than those with healthy gums (Michaud et al, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, online, Jan. 12, 2018).

Gums and Cancer:

The study included nearly 7,500 older people who had a dental examination as part of the study. This allowed for accurate measurement of periodontal disease.

During the following 15 years, 1,648 of the participants were diagnosed with cancer. 547 of them died from cancer. Lung cancer was twice as likely among people with infected gums as among volunteers with healthy gum tissue. Colorectal cancer was also 80 percent more common among those without teeth or with gum disease. Although that is a striking finding, it is not statistically significant.

Breast and prostate cancer did not seem to be linked to periodontitis. Neither were blood cancers.

Why Might Infected Gums Be Linked to Cancer?

The scientists note that “the exact mechanism linking periodontitis to cancer is not established.” Other researchers have noted that colon cancer tissues contain bacteria also found in pockets of gum inflammation. The inflammation resulting from gum infections might contribute to the initiation or growth of digestive tract tumors, but the connection is still unclear. In addition, no one understands exactly how infected gums would increase the susceptibility to lung cancer. To summarize, the investigators call for additional research to determine whether prevention and prompt treatment of gum disease could reduce the likelihood of certain cancers.

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  1. Gina
    Los Angeles

    In view of this and other reports over many years, isn’t it ironic that dental care and gum health and treatment are not part of medical plans and Medicare/Medicaid?

  2. John
    Croydon, PA

    A related issue is the use of triclosan to protect gums. It is an ingredient in Colgate Total, which carries the American Dental Association seal of approval for gum protection. Triclosan is banned in applications other than toothpaste because it contributes to antibiotic resistance. It might also be an endocrine disruptor. I have been a long time user of Colgate Total to help with gum pockets. I have recently sought alternative products.

  3. Ilene

    My husband has been diagnosed with Oral Leichen Planus, an autoimmune disease in his gums. It is very painful. At times his gums are inflamed and raw. Stress seems to aggravate this issue. The doctors/dentists say there is no cure for this disease. I am concerned about cancer or other issues as well. I would be interested in healthy wholistic suggestions and doctors and/or dentists that may have some information. Thank you.

    • Margaret
      New Paltz, NY

      Definitely research anti-inflammatory diet, maybe food sensitivities contribute? I have MC, and diet definitely helps with control inflammation.

  4. Rena R

    All of these diseases from gum disease yet the AMA still does not consider that Dental should be considered part of regular medical treatment. Amazing!

  5. Dawn

    Maybe those with gum disease are more likely to be smokers (lung cancer)? Maybe those who have gum disease have very poor diets (colorectal cancer)? So many variables not accounted for.

  6. JS

    Could the link between gum disease and lung cancer be explained by the fact that smoking increases the incidence of gum disease as well as lung cancer?

    • Terry Graedon

      Possibly. I don’t think anyone understands it completely.

  7. Dorothy

    My case history goes like this: On October 26, 2016, a dental surgeon performed an upper tooth extraction by opening up the gum into the sinus cavity freeing up the root. Everything went well, no further difficulty at the surgical site. In early December, I developed pneumonia and was admitted to hospital for 6 days. The rest of December and the following year 2017 were devoted to regaining my health. I am 85 yrs old, and my resistance to new germs is poor at best, so I am curtailing my exposure i.e. social settings. In retrospect, I should have kept the tooth.

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