Cancers, Diseases, and Oral Health: How Gum Disease is Connected

man with grey hair and beard holding his chest looks to be in pain
man with grey hair and beard holding his chest looks to be in pain

You may have heard people refer to the mouth as the gateway to the rest of the body. Medical professionals have been finding increasing evidence demonstrating how much our mouths’ health impacts the rest of our bodies. This is the mouth-body connection, also known as the oral-systemic link.

Many early symptoms of diseases appear first in the mouth; diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and Chron’s disease are often first detected during dental exams.

Much like we have the blood-brain barrier, which keeps toxins in the blood from reaching our brains, there is also a barrier that protects our bloodstream from the bacteria in our mouths. Gum disease can cause this barrier to break down, leading to issues affecting more than just our teeth and gums.

The exact nature of these links between overall health and oral health is still being researched, but the current belief is that inflammation plays a big role in the oral-systemic link. Evidence shows that treatment of the inflammation caused by periodontal disease can help treat other inflammatory conditions.

Cancers With Strong Oral Connections

The American Academy of Periodontology reported that those with gum disease have an increased chance of developing various types of cancer, specifically:

Pancreatic cancer – 54% increased chance

Kidney cancer – 49% increased chance

Blood cancers – 30% increased chance

Breast Cancer

A study done by the Federal University of Santa Maria Dental School in Brazil found that women with periodontitis (gum disease) are 2-3x more likely to develop breast cancer. This is yet another way that the health of our mouths is tied to our overall well-being. In this instance, the researchers believe that breast cancer may be triggered due to systemic inflammation resulting from gum disease.

The study was based on 67 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and 134 controls from 2013 to 2015. It is important to remember that this study does not mean that gum disease causes breast cancer. Still, it is an essential study as we continue to find new ways of fighting cancer and learning what may generate certain kinds to develop.

In the United States, for every 100,000 women, there are 124.9 new cases of breast cancer. Breast cancer continues to be studied, and a possible connection to dental health issues would be a new opportunity to learn and treat this form of cancer.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 47% of individuals 30 years and older have some form of periodontal disease, and this percentage only increases with age. For individuals 65 and older, 70% of them experience gum disease. The best way to prevent gum disease is through proper dental hygiene, which includes brushing and flossing twice daily and scheduling routine visits to the dentist.

Colon Cancer 

Gum disease allows oral bacteria to find their way to other body parts. According to research done by Virginia Tech, this bacteria may facilitate the spread of colon cancer and other types of cancer to other parts of the body.

The bacteria of interest in the study was Fusobacterium nucleatum, which is common in the mouth and has been found to invade tumors in the colon. Daniel Slade, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Biochemistry, explains the importance of the discovery that this type of bacteria may be responsible for the spread of cancer in the body: “This is vital information because 90% of cancer-related deaths result from nonprimary tumors or sites that have metastasized to somewhere else in the body.”

In a 2017 study performed on mice, researchers found their first evidence that Fusobacterium nucleatum could be directly responsible for causing cancer in the colon to spread to the liver.

The research team has made examining the role this bacteria plays in the spread of cancer a focus on their treatment. Understanding how this works can help medical experts find a way to inhibit the spread of cancer from one organ to another.

The team’s latest study, “Fusobacterium nucleatum Host-Cell Binding and Invasion Induces IL-8 and CXCL1 Secretion That Drives Colorectal Cancer Cell Migration,” was published in Science Signaling.

While promising for future research into the treatment of cancer, these findings also further highlight the importance of treating gum disease in order to minimize the presence of oral bacteria in the rest of the body.

Esophageal Cancer

A 10-year study performed by NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center found that two types of bacteria present in individuals with gum disease can increase the chances of being affected by esophageal cancer.

The eighth most common type of cancer in the world, esophageal cancer can be highly fatal and is the sixth most common cause of cancer-related deaths. In the US, it affects around 1 in 125 men and 1 in 417 women. The American Cancer Society says that currently, only around 20% of those diagnosed with this form of cancer will live for more than five years following diagnosis.

The study by NYU Langone found that bacteria associated with periodontal (gum) disease can find their way into the upper digestive tract, and in the case of one of the types of bacteria in the study, tannerella forsythia, their presence may increase the chances of this kind of cancer by 21%.

It is important to note that while the bacteria involved demonstrates a link between gum disease and esophageal cancer, it has not yet been proven that periodontal disease directly causes the cancer. However, the connection should be reason enough to reinforce the importance of proper oral hygiene and treatment of gum disease.

The best way to care for your gums and teeth is through proper brushing, flossing, and regular dental cleanings. Periodontal disease affects close to 50,000 people in the US each year and is much easier to treat when it is spotted early. If you think you have gum disease, please contact our office.

Pancreatic Cancer

Links between oral health and many serious ailments are continuously being uncovered, which should only further emphasize the importance of caring for your mouth, gums, and teeth. 

Pancreatic cancer is yet another severe condition with ties to oral health, as has been revealed in studies performed at Brown University, Harvard, New York University, and others.

Pancreatic cancer is tough to detect and causes death within six months of diagnosis. It is approximated that pancreatic cancer is responsible for nearly 40,000 deaths per year in the US. So, what is the connection between gum disease and pancreatic cancer?

The connection comes from changes in the microbial mix in your mouth. Those who have porphyromonas gingivalis in their mouth were at a 59% higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. In addition to prophyromonas gingivalis, those who had aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans were one 50% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

While the names may not mean much to the average person, the important thing to understand is that both of these types of bacteria have been tied to gum disease.

Unfortunately, most Americans do not take proper care of their gums. It is reported that nearly half of American adults over the age of 30 have some form of periodontal disease. If you look at Americans over the age of 65, the percentage suffering from periodontal disease increases to 65%. Although not nearly as talked about, gum disease is almost 2.5 times more common than diabetes.

However, there is some good news! Gum disease responds exceptionally well to treatment and can easily be reversed after being detected by your dentist.

As stated repeatedly, optimal overall health starts with your oral health. If you are suffering from gum disease or do not know whether you are suffering, scheduling an appointment with Dr. Mike or Dr. Dave may be advantageous. As stated before, gum disease is easily treated through multiple treatment options. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Other Diseases With Strong Oral Connections

The connection that cancer has to oral health is critical, but it doesn’t stand alone. Gum disease paves the way for many other diseases, including:

Respiratory Disease

It’s possible to breathe in bacteria from our mouths into our lungs. The same bacteria in periodontal disease can cause respiratory conditions such as pneumonia. 

Heart Disease and Stroke

It’s been found that conditions causing chronic inflammation, such as periodontal disease, have ties to conditions like stroke and heart disease and can increase their likelihood of happening. 

Very strong links have been established between oral health and cardiovascular disease, but researchers are still trying to clarify whether or not there is a cause-and-effect relationship. Evidence indicates a strong connection between heart disease and chronic inflammation, such as what is found in gum disease. This chronic inflammation is tied to the narrowing or blockages of blood vessels, which, in turn, can lead to a stroke or heart attack.

In an article examining many related studies, it was pointed out that having gum disease could increase a person’s chance of having heart disease by nearly 20%. Another study showed that those with gum disease have nearly double the risk of suffering a stroke than those with healthy gums.

These are significant risk factors and should be enough to drive home the importance of treating periodontal disease for overall health.

It’s important to watch for the early signs of gum disease to stop it while it is still reversible. Red, swollen gums which bleed when you brush, and floss can be the first signs of gingivitis. As this progresses into periodontal disease, the gums will begin to recede and form periodontal pockets, and ultimately, the loss of gum and bone tissue that support the teeth.

If you have been diagnosed with gum disease and are seeking treatment, please contact our office to schedule a consultation so that you can get back on the path to good oral health.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

A November 2020 study found more evidence of connections between rheumatoid arthritis and periodontal disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to mistakenly attack healthy cells of the body. It results in painful swelling of the affected tissues. While RA primarily affects the body’s joints, it can also damage the skin, lungs, heart, blood vessels, and eyes.

Although there’s still more to learn about whether or not one condition could be a cause of the other, past studies have found that people with RA are 8 times more likely to develop gum disease than those without RA. It’s also been found that the type of bacteria that causes periodontal disease, porphyromonas gingivalis, can lead to an earlier onset of RA and make it more severe.

Connections With Cardiovascular Disease

People with rheumatoid arthritis also face elevated risks for cardiovascular disease, which itself has links to periodontal disease.

The November 2020 study in Arthritis & Rheumatology found that a pathogen related to periodontal disease, called aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, “had the strongest associations with atherosclerosis in the patients with rheumatoid arthritis that we studied,” according to Jon T. Giles, MD, MPH, of Columbia University.

While research into the connections between periodontal disease and other diseases continues, this should further reinforce the importance of a healthy mouth. Preventing or treating gum disease may prevent or lessen the impact of ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis.


According to the National Institutes of Aging, the bacteria responsible for periodontal disease are also associated with the development of dementia (particularly vascular dementia) and Alzheimer’s disease.

We frequently emphasize the importance of oral health and treatment of periodontal/gum disease, as this infection of the tissues surrounding the gums allows bacteria from the mouth to enter the bloodstream and affect other parts of the body.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey along with blood tests, the National Institutes of Aging researchers looked at a group of more than 6,000 people to find if the oral bacteria in gum disease could be linked with diagnoses of dementia.

They looked for nineteen different types of oral bacteria, including Porphyromonas gingivalis, which is the most typical type of bacteria found in gum disease. In those who are afflicted by Alzheimer’s, it’s been found that beta-amyloid proteins can clump together to form plaques. A previous study has suggested that these plaques may be produced in the body as a response to Porphyromonas gingivalis.

One of the findings was that older adults with gum disease at the start of the study were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s during the study than those who did not have signs of gum infections.

While it appears clear that there are connections between dementia and the bacteria found in periodontal disease, researchers are looking into long-term studies to learn more about this association. The current findings suggest that gum disease may precede cases of dementia, but it’s also known that dementia makes it harder for patients to care for their teeth and gums properly. Further research needs to be done into whether or not the treatment of infections of gingivalis can have an impact on Alzheimer’s disease.


When considering osteoporosis in the context of oral health, the potential connection to periodontal disease interests researchers. Periodontal disease, if left unchecked, can lead to the loss of the bone and connective tissues that hold teeth in place. Since both diseases can have an impact on bone, the interaction between the two is something that needs to be better understood.

Research is currently inconclusive when it comes to whether or not having osteoporosis can lead to an increase in the chances of developing gum disease, however, for those who are suffering from gum disease and osteoporosis, data indicates that there is a higher chance of seeing deterioration in the alveolar bone which hold teeth in place.

For this reason, it is a good idea to let your dentist know if you have osteoporosis, especially if you are currently being treated for or at risk of developing gum disease, as the condition may cause periodontal disease to progress more quickly.


Diabetes and periodontal disease have been found to affect one another, with diabetes making gum disease worse and gum disease making it harder to control diabetes.

With the links between all of these health conditions and oral health becoming increasingly clear, it should be obvious why it is important to deal with issues like gum disease as soon as possible. If you have concerns about gum disease, contact us to schedule a consultation with Dr. Dave or Dr. Mike.

In the following articles, we’ll be taking a closer look at the connections between periodontal disease and diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Take Care of Your Oral Hygiene

To prevent increasing your chances of falling ill with one of the aforementioned diseases, it’s important to prevent gum disease first. Developing and maintaining a good oral hygiene routine is paramount for living a happy, healthy life.

To get ahead of periodontal disease, routine checkups are necessary. Schedule yours with Twin Dental today.

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