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The unexpected dangers of gum disease

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As evidence that this is possible, researchers have shown that P. gingivalis is the most commonly found bacterial species in the coronary artery.


Cancer risk increase

Once again, gum disease and cancer do not, on the surface, appear to have much in common.

A study published in 2008 investigated tooth loss and cancer in 48,375 men. The authors concluded that there was, indeed, a link between gum disease and cancer. They write:

«Periodontal disease was associated with a small, but significant, increase in overall cancer risk.»

Another, more recent, study involving more than 68,000 adults found a strong association between gum disease and overall cancer risk; the link was also significant between gum disease and pancreatic cancer.


How gum disease could lead to cancer

A recent study links gum disease to cancer-related death.

Why might this be the case? A paper published in Nature goes some way toward an explanation.

The researchers found that an enzyme produced by a type of bacteria commonly associated with gum disease — Treponema denticola — commonly appears in certain tumors of the gastrointestinal system.

The enzyme, known as T. denticola chymotrypsin-like proteinase, helps the bacteria invade tissue in gum disease. The researchers found that it also activated other enzymes that promote cancer cells as they advance into healthy tissue.


Erectile dysfunction

An estimated 50 percent of men over the age of 40 experience erectile dysfunction. It is a complex condition that can result from both psychological and physiological factors.

Some well-known risk factors include smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, and hypertension. According to some scientists, periodontal disease might also increase the risk of erectile dysfunction.

For instance, the authors of a literature review published in 2016 identify an association between erectile dysfunction and chronic periodontitis.

In fact, they suggest “that physicians should refer patients with [erectile dysfunction] to oral healthcare providers for a comprehensive oral evaluation and treatment.”

The importance of dental hygiene may extend to the bedroom.

Because erectile dysfunction and gum disease have shared risk factors, including smoking and diabetes, it has been difficult to ascertain whether gum disease is an independent risk factor for erectile dysfunction.

Although sexual dysfunction and gum health seem worlds apart, there are a number of potential ways in which they could influence each other.

Once again, inflammation might be the culprit. As mentioned earlier, inflammation in one part of the body — the mouth, in this instance — can spread via chemical messengers in the blood and impact other regions.

Erectile dysfunction is often due to malfunctioning blood vessels; specifically, the smooth muscles lining the walls of blood vessels lose their ability to relax. This is referred to as endothelial dysfunction, and it prevents vasodilation in the penis and, consequently, erections.

A so-called proinflammatory state may promote endothelial dysfunction and, therefore, increase the risk of erectile dysfunction.

However, the link has not been definitively proven. The authors of a review published in 2016 concluded that, although this link seems likely, more large-scale studies are needed.


Gums and lungs

Of course, the mouth is a shared gateway to the gums and the lungs, making a link between gum and lung diseases less surprising than some of the others that we have encountered.

A study published in February 2019 investigated the records of 1,380 men. The authors found a significant relationship between chronic periodontitis and a reduction in respiratory function.

This link remained significant, even after controlling for confounding variables, such as smoking.

Once again, inflammation may be the link between the two conditions. If the tubes in the lungs that carry air are inflamed, they become narrower and air flow is restricted.

Aside from the probable role of inflammation, bacteria present in the mouth might also be breathed into the lungs. Once in the lungs, the bacteria could trigger infections that directly lead to inflammation.

A recent meta-analysis investigated potential links between gum disease and lung cancer. The authors concluded that “patients with periodontal disease are at increased risk of developing lung cancer.”

In their paper, they outline some potential ways in which gum disease might increase lung cancer risk. For instance, breathing in bacteria, such as P. gingivalis, from the mouth could cause infections.

Similarly, enzymes produced during the course of gum disease might pass into the lungs. Once there, they could help pathogens take root and colonize the lung tissue.

These changes spark inflammation; over the long term, inflammation causes changes in cells that raise the likelihood of cancer developing.


The take-home message

One could read this article as a worrying collection of conditions made all the more likely to occur, courtesy of gum disease.

If we adopt the opposite approach, though, the take-home message could be much more positive: Good dental hygiene may reduce our risk of developing a range of serious health problems.

As the authors of the lung cancer analysis, mentioned above, write, “periodontal disease is a preventable and treatable disease.” Managing it at an early stage might reduce the risks of a multitude of ills.



The post The unexpected dangers of gum disease appeared first on Tribune Online.

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