Scientists associate halitosis-causing plaque with increased risk of cancer
SUMMARY: While the connection is still unclear, the association is significant, researchers say.
Posted: June 15, 2012
It's important to take care of your mouth, and that means brushing, flossing, scraping your tongue and using a halitosis-fighting specialty breath freshener. Not only can such regimens prevent bad breath and cavities, but they may also be able to reduce your likelihood for more serious conditions.
Remember how researchers discovered that periodontal disease increases the risk of pregnancy complications? Well, now there's a new finding out of Sweden, one that's just as concerning.
Scientists at the Karolinska Institute recently found that, compared to their orally healthy counterparts, young adults with dental plaque build-up were 79 percent more likely to die prematurely of cancer.
The study points to toxins, enzymes
Coming to this figure involved some pretty extensive health monitoring. To wit, Swedish scientists enrolled 1,390 adults aged 30 to 40, in an ongoing study of their oral health and general wellness.
Starting in 1985, researchers measured participants' oral plaque levels, and then periodically remeasured them in the decades that followed. Finally, in 2009, the team wrapped up their investigation. Overall, 35 of the original cohort had died of cancer, and many of these individuals had significant levels of dental plaque.
The team concluded that the prolonged presence of plaque is associated with a much higher risk of early death from cancer. And what could be the root of this connection? Researchers were unsure, since the link is unclear. But they theorized that halitosis-causing dental plaque may cause inflammation and release of toxins or enzymes that increase the risk of malignancy.
While the male participants showed no particular pattern in their development of cancer, the females with high levels of plaque had a particularly increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Other studies agree
This isn't the first time that researchers have associated poor oral health with a higher likelihood of certain cancers. Three prior studies have all linked periodontal disease and tooth loss to a higher-than-average likelihood of pancreatic and lung cancers.
- A 2003 report in the journal Annals of Epidemiology estimated that individuals with periodontal disease were between 48 percent and 73 percent more likely to develop lung cancer.
- A study published in the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition, also in 2003, found that individuals who were missing between one and 10 teeth had a 63 percent higher incidence of pancreatic cancer.
- Finally, in 2007, a paper in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute estimated that periodontal disease more than doubled the risk of pancreatic cancer among non-smokers.
Clearly, a clean, odor-free mouth is no laughing matter.