When was the last time you visited the dentist? One year ago? Two years? Five years? Many people are under the assumption that if you’re not experiencing any pain, your mouth is healthy. While pain often time is an indicator of an oral health issue, once you’re experiencing it, you’ve missed out on the crucial preventative side of dentistry. Not only can skipping the dentist cause more, completely unnecessary pain down the road, according to a recent research study, keeping certain bacteria (found in the mouth) in check, could help reduce your risk of cancer.
The study was recently published in The Journal of Virology by a team at Case Western Reserve University, and details of the report were found in a Science Daily article. Fengchum Ye, the study’s lead investigator from the School of Dental Medicine’s Department of Biological Sciences, stated that high levels of the two bacteria investigated are found in the saliva of people with periodontal disease. The bacteria are also found at lower levels in individuals with good oral health. Researchers discovered that byproducts of the two bacteria, in the form of fatty acids, stimulate the growth of lesions and tumors in the mouth that are associated with the sometimes fatal Kaposi sarcoma (KS), which is a common condition found in individuals with HIV due to the lack of immune system strength. KS typically appears as lesions on the surface of the mouth initially, but if left untreated can grow into malignant tumors. Other individuals at risk include those with compromised immune systems: people on medications to suppress rejection of transplants, patients on chemotherapies, and the elderly population with naturally weakened immunity.
Survival rates are highest when the condition is detected and treated early on, when still in the lesion state. The new study could result in the development of an early saliva test, which could easily look at levels of the two bacteria, determining a risk of both periodontal disease and an increase chance of developing KS. If found early enough, symptoms can be treated and monitoring for signs of cancer could significantly lower the chances of developing malignant tumors. According to Ye, “these new findings provide one of the first looks at how the periodontal bacteria create a unique microenvironment in the oral cavity that contributes to the replication the Kaposi’s sarcoma Herpesvirus and development of KS.” Once again, further evidence of how oral health can contribute to the development of life threatening health conditions proves that the mouth really is a window to overall wellness.