Oral Health and Lung Cancer

Linking oral health to other serious health conditions is nothing new, but recent research has made a discovery that is the first of its kind. According to an article from the American Academy of Periodontology, researchers in China found that people with gum disease, or periodontal disease, have an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Through the analysis of 321,420 participants, the scientists were able to determine that those suffering from gum disease have a 1.24-fold increased risk of developing lung cancer.

At first glance, I thought that the study was not that significant, because the results seemed obvious to me. Alcohol consumption and smoking are common risk factors for both periodontal disease and lung cancer. It would make sense that the two conditions are related. But upon further investigating, I realized that the researchers make adjustments for these factors when reporting their findings. Actually, for participants who were drinkers, smokers, and had been diagnosed with diabetes (another independent risk factor for both lung cancer and gum disease), their risk of developing lung cancer jumped by 1.36 fold. The data also indicated that women with periodontal disease are more likely than their male counterparts to develop lung cancer.

Some of the research analyzed suggested that certain oral bacteria may be involved in the development of cancer cells in the lungs. Others indicated that with successful treatment of periodontal disease, substantially reduced risk of lung cancer development may follow. It is apparent that further research is necessary to fully understand this link.

“This report can be added to the body of literature that associates periodontal disease with other conditions in the body, including diabetes and heart disease,” said Wayne A. Aldredge, DMD, New “Jersey periodontist and president of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP). “While additional research is needed on the possible links between lung cancer and periodontal disease, we know for sure that taking care of your teeth and gums can reduce periodontal disease risk and possibly the risk of other systemic conditions.”

About 50% of Americans age 30 and older suffer from gum disease, which is caused by an inflammatory reaction to a bacterial infection below the gum line. If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to swelling, irritation, receding gums, and ultimately tooth loss. The AAP recommends a good dental hygiene routine, which included brushing twice a day, regular flossing, and an annual exam and professional cleaning. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women. It is estimated that 158,000 Americans will die from lung cancer this year alone. More people die of lung cancer than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

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