Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dental Plaque Can Pose Cancer Risks

As it goes in the dental industry, most of our focus is on the importance of caring for your oral health. When most people consider the consequences for the absence of brushing, flossing and visiting the dentist for routine exams and cleanings, the “C” word does not come to mind. If the prospects of cancer increased due to lack of oral care, more people would probably practice better dental care.

Unfortunately, and not just as a scare tactic, cancer is a risk for those who fail to keep plaque build-up at a minimum. Truth be told, plaque is a killer, and it has been linked through research and studies to tooth decay, loss of teeth and oral issues, chronic illness and heart disease. Plaque has the power to cause systemic issues that travel well beyond the boundaries of the mouth.

New research suggests that people who have more plaque on their teeth and gums are more likely to suffer and even die prematurely from cancer, based on this international study, recently published.
The findings, which appear in the edition of BMJ Open, show only an association between plaque, and a “raised risk of early cancer death, and not a cause-and-effect relationship.”
The study was conducted on 1,400 Swedish adults over a period of 24 years. Throughout the duration, of the 58 subjects who died, 35 cases did so from cancer.
Conclusive Results
Those with high amounts of dental plaque were 79 percent more likely to die prematurely, the study showed. However, the absolute risk of any person with dental plaque dying early of cancer was low.
On average, female participants were 61 years old when they died and men were 60. Women would have been expected to live around 13 years longer, and the men an additional 8.5 years, the study authors wrote, so their deaths could be considered premature.

Inflammation Plays a Role
Although the study only showed an association between plaque and cancer deaths, the underlying problem was inflammation, which could be considered the common denominator.
"Bacteria in the gums may trigger local inflammation, and these bacteria and inflammatory markers don't just stay where they are," said Dr. Joel Epstein, director of oral medicine at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif. "They are measurable in the blood, so it becomes systemic and widely distributed."
These findings made sense to Saul Presser, a dentist in private practice in New York City.
"There have been reports recently of a connection between certain cancers and oral plaque accumulation," he said. "When one has a lot of dental plaque, this means that more microorganisms are present than if there was minimal plaque in the mouth. It has been shown that certain cancers can be related to some viruses and other microorganisms."

The Take Away
It is too early to say that this plaque directly causes cancer, he said, but "it would be wise for patients to minimise their oral plaque through good oral hygiene and regular dental exams and professional cleanings."
Epstein said the findings demonstrate the interconnectedness of the human body.
"This is interesting and impactful data that broadens the whole view of not being able to separate the mouth from other body parts," he said.

More information
Learn more about healthy teeth and gums at the American Dental Association.