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New study links gum disease to increased risk of breast cancer

As a dentist in Bolton, I’m always reading the latest news and studies from the dental world with interest. One study that stood out recently was a paper first published online on 21st December 2015, entitled: Periodontal Disease and Breast Cancer: Prospective Cohort Study of Postmenopausal Women.

The study by researchers from the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the State University of New York at Buffalo set out to explore whether gum disease, which has been consistently associated with chronic disease, increases the risk of breast cancer, especially as oral-associated microbes are present in breast tumours.

The researchers followed 73,737 postmenopausal women without a history of breast cancer. Any breast tumours later found within the cohort were verified by a physician, while the women filled out a questionnaire about their level of gum disease. The study also acknowledged that smoking may be a contributing link.

The results of the study make for sobering reading. Of the 73,737 subjects, 2,124 breast cancer cases were identified after a mean follow-up of 6.7 years. The study showed that the women with gum disease (26.1% overall) were 14% more likely to develop breast cancer, than those without gum disease, particularly among former smokers who quit within the last 20 years. The figures among smokers follow the same trend.

According to a report about these findings on the British Dental Health Foundation website, researcher “believe the link could be the result of a systemic inflammation which originates in the infected gums”. It may also be that bacteria from the mouth enters the circulatory system via the gums, subsequently affecting the breast tissue.

This study shows that more research is required into the specific relationship between gum disease and breast cancer – for example, are there links in other populations? What are the characteristics of periodontal disease and does the bacteria travel via the gums into the rest of the body? For years, anecdotal evidence has suggested a link between periodontal disease and a numbers of cancers, heart disease and strokes. There is a growing body of evidence to support these claims, but this is still an emerging area of research.

What I do know as a dentist in Bolton is that the health risks associated with gum disease can be far reaching. As well as bad breath and bleeding gums, I have seen first-hand that gum disease can cause tooth loss and bone loss that affects the underlying facial structure and can eventually impact on a person’s speech and significantly age their face.

Approximately, 50% of adults in the UK have gum disease and up to 15% of them have severe periodontitis. This study linking gum disease to increased risks of breast cancer in postmenopausal women strikes me as yet another wake-up call that good oral health is paramount to our overall health and wellbeing.

If you think you have gum disease, we would urge you to contact your dentist and book an appointment so that they can assess what’s going on and give you the support you need to stop the problem from getting worse.

You should brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day, and attend regular check-ups with your dentist and hygienist. If your gums bleed when you eat or brush your teeth, or you notice that your gums look swollen and redder than usual, please don’t delay in seeking advice.

If you’re looking for a dentist in Bolton or you have any concerns about your gum health, give us a call at Harwood Dental Care on 01204 304 568.

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