Researchers who conducted a new analysis of data that was recently published in the Journal of Periodontology found that gum disease is associated with a nearly 25% increase in lung cancer risk. Although this is at present just a statistical association, there is good reason to believe that it is an actual causal relationship, part of the links between your overall health and your oral health.
A Statistical Meta-Analysis
This study doesn’t represent new data, but, rather, a reconsideration of data from multiple previous studies. The meta-analysis looks at five other studies that included more than 320,000 individuals, which gives it a large statistical base to draw from. They also considered the potential that publication bias was skewing the results in the studies (they found it wasn’t).
What they did find was a significant connection between gum disease and lung cancer. After correcting for other risk factors for gum disease and lung cancer–including smoking and alcohol consumption–they found a credible link, showing that individuals with gum disease were 1.24 times more likely to develop lung cancer. Women, it seemed, saw a slightly higher increase in risk because of their gum disease.
And if people had additional risk factors, their total risk increased to 1.36 times those with no risk factors.
Explaining the Connection
How do we explain this link between gum disease and lung cancer? First, we have to accept that there’s a possibility it’s just statistical. With such a large population, that doesn’t seem likely, although there is a possibility that they haven’t properly accounted for the other risk factors. This is especially likely with smoking, which is linked to both gum disease and lung cancer.
But there’s a very real possibility that this connection is causal. Oral bacteria are frequently found in the lungs and likely contribute significantly to pneumonia. Oral bacteria have also been linked to many different kinds of cancer. Their presence in the lungs could lead to lung cancer in a similar way to how gum disease can increase the risk of oral cancer. And since oral bacteria can impair your body’s ability to detect and eliminate cancer, they could stop your body from identifying and destroying cancer when it’s small and harmless.
Systemic inflammation is another possible link. Gum disease is a chronic infection, which can cause your body to exist at a heightened immune state for years on end. This can cause a wide range of systemic health problems, including autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and cancers.
Protect Your Health
This new link between gum disease and lung cancer is certainly worrying. It reminds us that neglecting your oral health can have serious, even deadly consequences. If you have dental anxiety, it’s important to find ways to overcome your anxiety–such as sedation dentistry–to ensure you get the oral healthcare you need, from basic checkups and cleanings to more involved reconstructive procedures.