Poor Oral Hygiene Possibly Linked To Cancer

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com

Brush up. Brush down. Brush to the left. Brush to the right. Then floss. This isn´t any ordinary dance routine — this is a description of the steps to take when brushing your teeth. Researchers in Sweden recently announced that an increased amount of dental plaque has been found to affect the risk of premature cancer death.

The observational study was published in the June 11 edition of the BMJ Open online journal and focuses on data that was collected between 1985 and 2009 from 1,390 Swedish adults. At the beginning of the project, all the participants were tested on factors that could possibly increase their risk of cancer and they also had their oral hygiene assessed. In the 24 years after the initial test, 58 patients died, 35 of which had passed away due to cancer. According to the Telegraph, plaque consists of a film of bacteria that covers the gap between the teeth and gums as well as the surfaces of the teeth.

The researchers found that those who died had a higher amount of dental plaque on their teeth than those who lived longer. The people who died had scored among 0.84 to 0.91, which signaled that plaque had covered a significant area of the gums of their teeth. On the other hand, those who lived longer consistently showed scores around 0.66 and 0.67, which signified that plaque, only covered partial areas of the gums.

The researchers stated that the average age of death for women was 61 and the average age of death for males was 60. Their deaths could have been premature, as the women were expected to live 13 years longer and the males were expected to live an extra 8.5 years. The findings propose a possible connection between cancer and oral hygiene.

“Based on the present findings, the high bacterial load on tooth surfaces and in gingival pockets over a prolonged time may indeed play a role in carcinogenesis,” noted the authors in the report.

Furthermore, even though the research doesn´t look at the connection between gum inflammation and cancer, the two may be related.

“Bacteria in the gums may trigger local inflammation, and these bacteria and inflammatory markers don’t just stay where they are,” Dr. Joel Epstein, director of oral medicine at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, California, told MSN Health. “They are measurable in the blood, so it becomes systemic and widely distributed.”

Some believe that the findings make sense.

“There have been reports recently of a connection between certain cancers and oral plaque accumulation,” commented Saul Presser, a dentist in New York City, in the MSN Health article. “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.”

Others are more skeptical and believe that the findings raise more questions than provide answers.

“This study does not answer the question of whether or not dental plaque leads to cancer death,” explained Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, in the MSN Health article. “We only know how many people died, so we don’t know if there is an increase in the incidence of cancer among people with plaque, or if, perhaps, it renders them more susceptible to treatment-associated infection.”

Even with these conflicting opinions, authors warn that the results do not prove completely that dental plaque affects or initiates risk of cancer. In previous research, dental plaque, which is a possible cause of infections and signals poor hygiene, has been seen to be related to systemic problems. The scientists believe that more research needs to be done to better understand the connection between the two.

“Our study hypothesis was confirmed by the finding that poor (mouth) hygiene, as reflected in the amount of dental plaque, was associated with increased cancer mortality,” they write. “Further studies are required to determine whether there is any causal element in the observed association.”

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