Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Periodontal Disease: Linked to Breast Cancer in Post-Menopausal Women

Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is a relatively common condition that will affect many of us at some stage in our lives, and while it can be treated with antibiotics and online doctors that prescribe pain meds to ease toothache and inflamed gums, new research suggests it could lead to more serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and breast cancer if left untreated.

During a study on 73,737 postmenopausal women, scientists at the University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions in New York, discovered that women with periodontal disease are 14% more likely to develop breast cancer than those women without gum disease.  This risk increased to over 30% in women who smoked or had smoked in the last 20 years.

This is not the first time that gum disease has been linked to cancer, previous studies found links between periodontal disease and oesophageal, head, neck, lung, and pancreatic cancers, but for the first time, the Women’s Health Initiative Observation Study has highlighted a risk between this chronic inflammatory condition and breast cancer, and it is postmenopausal women who are most at risk.

Smoking & Gum Disease

Toothache, bleeding gums, loose teeth and unpleasant breath are all signs of gum disease, and there is a plethora of scientific evidence to suggest that periodontal disease is made worse by smoking.

Tobacco and nicotine can lead to a variety of different dental problems including tooth discoloration, an increased build-up of plaque, loss of bone within the jaw, and stunted blood vessels, which can prevent the gums from bleeding, even when periodontal disease is present. This is why researchers took smoking into consideration during the study, and the results, although not statistically significant, are a clear warning to postmenopausal women who smoke.

The Link Between Gum Disease and Breast Cancer

While the link between gum disease and breast cancer is still unclear, some scientists believe that the blood stream could become infected with bacteria from the gums, which then spreads to breast tissue causing the formation of cancerous cells.

However, researchers who carried out the study confirmed that more research is needed to pinpoint a specific cause-and-effect link between the two, and that more evidence is required to establish a clear connection between periodontal disease and breast cancer.

Jo Freudenheim PhD, a distinguished professor and lead author of the Women’s Health Initiative Observation Study said, “These findings are useful in providing new insight into what causes breast cancer.” She continued, "We know that the bacteria in the mouths of current and former smokers who quit recently are different from those in the mouths of non-smokers."

"There is good evidence, though, that good dental care is important in any case and that treatment of periodontal disease is important for the health of the mouth," she said, “but more study is needed before there is enough evidence to say that gum disease causes breast cancer or other diseases”.

Symptoms of Gum Disease

In the early stages of gum disease, common symptoms include red swollen gums and bleeding when brushing the teeth.  If left untreated, the jaw bone and surrounding tissues may become affected, leaving sufferers with loose teeth, bad breath, painful gum abscesses, and in severe cases, tooth loss.  It is therefore essential that gum disease is diagnosed quickly.

One of the easiest ways to avoid gum disease is with good oral hygiene. By brushing twice per day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing regularly, and not smoking, you can reduce the risk of gum disease, and regular visits to the dentist (every 6 months), will keep toothache and dental problems at bay.

This is a guest post by Dr Anderson, a health physician.

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