Is Periodontal Disease Linked to Breast Cancer?
Gum disease and breast cancer might seem like an odd connection, but a December 2015 article published by Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention makes a positive link between the two. Before we discuss the connection further, let’s review each condition individually.
Understanding Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease, more commonly known as gum disease, occurs due to inflammation in the gums. Most people who have gum disease do not know it. In the earliest stage of gum disease, inflammation is typically the only issue. Dentists call this gingivitis. As the condition progresses, bacteria in the mouth causes separation between the teeth and gums. This leads to infection as well as the formation of gum pockets.
If you have gum disease and it remains untreated, the bacteria can eventually cause the connective tissue and bone that support your teeth to deteriorate. Tooth extraction is a predictable outcome of severe gum disease.
When food particles remain on your teeth for too long, they turn to bacteria and begin attacking your teeth and gums. This is especially true for food particles that remain lodged between two teeth. The good news about gum disease is that it’s entirely preventable. At Briglia Dental Group, we recommend brushing for at least two minutes two or more times per day and flossing at least once per day. Flossing is especially important because it dislodges food particles stuck between teeth that can break down to form bacteria.
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer occurs when malignant cells form and multiply in the tissues of the breast. The damaged cells can quickly spread to the lymph nodes and other nearby tissues. As with periodontal disease, breast cancer is highly treatable when detected early. It’s also a common disease, affecting one woman in eight at some point in her life. Approximately one percent of people who receive a new breast cancer diagnosis every year are men.
Certain risk factors make it more likely that you will develop breast cancer, including the following:
- Age over 55
- Family history, especially if your mother, sister, or daughter currently has breast cancer or had it in the past
- Inheriting a mutated BRAC1 or BRAC2 gene
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Excess intake of alcohol
Data included in the December 2015 study on the link between gum disease and breast cancer suggests that you can add severe or untreated gum disease to the list of risk factors for breast cancer. Like smoking, lack of exercise, and drinking too much or too often, this risk factor is within your control.
Characteristics of Women Participating in the Study of Gum Disease and Breast Cancer
Until the study just over two years ago, researchers had not uncovered a link between these two health conditions. However, they have proven that people with gum disease have an increased likelihood of developing heart disease, diabetes, and stroke as well as esophageal, head and neck, lung, oral, and pancreatic cancer.
Nearly 74,000 women who had already gone through menopause participated in the study to determine whether a connection exists between poor oral hygiene and breast cancer. This study was part of the much larger Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study that considers the impact that diet, genetic factors, lifestyle, and overall health has on the development of cancer and other serious diseases.
None of the women had a diagnosis of breast cancer at the start of the study, although 26 percent did report having gum disease. By the end of the study, which lasted for 6.5 years, the researchers concluded that the risk of women with gum disease developing breast cancer was approximately 14 percent.
How Bacteria in the Mouth Can Lead to Breast Cancer
The researchers posed the following theories showing a cause and effect relationship between these two conditions:
- The development of cancerous cells in the breast tissue can occur due to inflammation anywhere in the body, including gums infected by periodontal disease.
- Bacteria present in the mouth can enter into the body’s circulatory system from the gums and travel to the breast tissue. Although bacteria exit the mouth quickly after brushing, flossing, and chewing, their exposure to gum tissues over a period of years can cause a build-up that eventually travels to other parts of the body.
Either one of these causes of breast cancer are much more prevalent in women who smoke. That is because gum disease progresses much faster in smokers. The study found that women who have gum disease but never smoked have a six percent higher risk of developing breast cancer. Women with gum disease who hadn’t smoked in more than 20 years had an eight percent greater chance while the risk jumped to 36 percent for those who quit smoking less than 20 years ago.
Recommendations to Prevent Gum Disease
Besides brushing and flossing every day, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that you visit your dentist twice per year for a cleaning and preventive care exam. This is particularly important when you consider that most people with gum disease don’t know that they have it.
Coming in for regular check-ups gives Dr. Briglia the opportunity to detect gum disease while you can still reverse it. We also recommend that you schedule an evaluation if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Bad breath despite regular brushing and flossing
- Bleeding, tender, red, or swollen gums
- Gums have pulled away from your teeth or you notice small pockets on your gum line
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Unpleasant taste in your mouth that won’t go away
to schedule your next preventive care exam or to request an evaluation of your symptoms.