Increased presence of dental plaque linked to cancer

By Sheryl Kay • Published: October 9th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Heard of dental plaque? They are the colonizing bacteria that affix to the surface of your teeth. More than 80 percent of Americans suffer from the condition. Plaque often leads to tartar build-up and then pockets, which cause the gums to recede from the teeth, leaving empty space for more bacteria to reside and grow.

Because inflammation and infection are cornerstones of both dental plaque and one in five types of cancer, researchers decided to look at a possible link between the two illnesses.

Almost fourteen-hundred adults, ages 30 to 40, were monitored for 24 years. Investigators looked at the levels of dental plaque, tartar, gum disease and tooth loss in each of the participants, while also scrutinizing their smoking habits.

Careful analysis revealed that 58 of the adults had died prematurely based on average mortality rates, and 35 of those cases were due to cancer. Women primarily died from breast cancer, while the men’s deaths were attributed to various cancers. The numbers were then evaluated looking at all potential risk factors for premature death, including smoking and lower income, as well as the frequency of dental visits and the amount of dental plaque present on the teeth of those who died.

The final results showed that there was a 79 percent higher chance of premature death among those men and women with the greatest amount of dental plaque covering their teeth.

The researchers did note that because there was no way to identify a definitive causal element between the two conditions, more studies would be needed. However, because the research showed a link between dental plaque and an increased chance of dying from cancer, it’s a good reminder to keep floss and your toothbrush close at hand.