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Understanding The Risks Of Oral Cancer From Periodontal Disease

Dentist examining patient's mouth

Dental care is often one of the most underappreciated parts of our healthcare because caring for our teeth can help us prevent serious, harmful diseases that affect the lives of people each day. Periodontal disease continues to affect the lives of people every day not only by directly attacking the gums but also increasing the risk of other health issues later on in life. Our immune systems are complex systems, often affected by the illnesses and diseases we fight off constantly to maintain our health, but over time, the prevalence of diseases in our lives can contribute to other illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. However, cancer has now been linked with the occurrence of this disease.

Why Is Cancer Considered A Risk With Periodontal Disease?

So, why have researchers been linking periodontal disease with cancer? It’s often due to the harmful strains of bacteria that develop from this condition that leads to an increased risk. However, the better understand this; we need to look at how periodontal disease develops over time. When it comes to periodontal disease, it occurs in at least three stages:

  • Gingivitis: Often, with the accumulation of plaque, the bacteria film that grows along the surface of the tooth can infect the gum line. Once injected into the gum line, the gums become mildly inflamed and become slightly tender to the touch. When the gums swell, it can make brushing and floss more difficult. However, because it exists in the earliest stages, brushing and flossing can help remove the bacteria and protect your teeth and gums.
  • Gum Disease: Once this disease progresses to a more moderate form, the gums will become red, swollen, and heavily inflamed. The gums will also bleed easily, making it difficult to manage brushing and flossing. When a moderate case of gum disease is present, it means that professional cleanings are needed to remove the bacteria film from the mouth.
  • Periodontal Disease: As the advanced form of this disease, periodontal disease has progressed to the point where the ligaments and gum tissues that hold the teeth in place begin to degrade and weaken. Alongside bleeding, inflammation, and tenderness, the bacteria can begin to infect the blood and jawbone, causing the bacteria to flow into the bloodstream and slowly degrade at the jawbone.

Periodontal disease can be treated with scaling and planning performed by a primary dentist or periodontist. However, periodontal disease presents many more risks to your health because it increases your cancer risk. Studies from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute report that with advanced gum disease, there is an increased risk in between 14% and 20% because of the many immune system responses that occur from the harmful bacteria inside the bloodstream.

Finding Resources For Periodontal Treatment and Care

These links between periodontal disease and cancer still require extensive research, but understanding how periodontal disease impacts your oral health is crucial towards finding treatment. If you think you have some form of gum disease, the best resource for getting the treatment you need is to see your primary dentist to learn about your options.

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Dr. Marian Bradford Dr. Marian Bradford brings over 20 years of experience as a Dr. of Dental Surgery to the practice at Premier Dental of South Orange County. As a researcher, educator, and clinician, she brings a full range of services to patients in the Aliso Viejo, CA area, including restoration and cosmetic dentistry care.
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