It’s easy to think of oral health as isolated from overall health. Failing to maintain good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing could have consequences like tooth decay, bad breath, or even tooth loss, but most people don’t think about the consequences that could extend throughout the body.

Unfortunately, poor oral health isn’t limited to the mouth. In fact, studies in recent years have shown exactly the opposite: The mouth can instead be a door through which a number of deadly diseases enter the body. Researchers have already found that gum disease is linked to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and even problems with conception. And a recent study uncovered yet another terrifying connection — this time to cancer.

A elderly woman brushing her teeth

What Exactly is Gum Disease?

If “gum disease” sounds like a broad term, that’s because it is. It refers to any infection of the gum tissue, and is broken down into three stages: Gingivitis, periodontitis, and advanced periodontitis. Gingivitis can seem mild, which is deceptive. While the symptoms are moderate, such as gums that bleed easily and bad breath, the infection is just getting a foothold in your mouth. As the disease advances, it can attack the roots of the teeth, causing them to become loose, misaligned, or even come out completely.

And don’t be too quick to dismiss gum disease as someone else’s problem: Nearly half of Americans have gum disease in some form, which means you’re more likely to have it than you think. Those percentages go way up as you age, too.

To prevent gum disease, it’s important to have excellent at-home oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings. Seeing your dentist regularly will also give them the opportunity to spot early warning signs of gum disease and treat it before it gets out of hand and leads to tooth loss… or worse.

Study Connects Gum Disease to Cancer

Studies had already connected gum disease with breast cancer, but researchers for the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study wanted to go further and examine the impact of gum disease on cancer of all kinds. The study followed over 65,000 women between the ages of 54 and 86 using questionnaires and cancer screenings over the course of fourteen years.

Out of the over 65,000 participants, over 7,000 were diagnosed with some form of cancer by the end of the study period. By analyzing the cancer diagnoses with information on participants’ periodontal health, researchers were able to determine that women with periodontal disease were 14% more likely to develop some type of cancer.

Most often correlated with gum disease was esophageal cancer — women with gum disease were a staggering three times more likely to develop it than women with healthy gums. There was also an association with gallbladder cancer, as well as confirmation of the link to breast cancer that previous studies have identified.

Gum disease can pose health risks for anyone, but these studies show that mature women should be especially careful about their oral health. The key to catching gum disease early is seeing your dentist regularly! Call (845) 627-7645 or contact us online to make an appointment with a dentist right here in Rockland County.