Most of us brush and floss twice a day for fresh breath and to keep away cavities, but there are more important reasons to keep a clean mouth: research studies have shown links between poor oral health and illnesses such as heart disease, premature birth, stroke, and diabetes. Recently, researchers have linked two specific dental bacteria, already known to be present in periodontal disease, to an increased risk for pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, individuals with both bacteria present in the mouth had double the risk of developing the disease. We want our New York dental patients to be aware of this study.
New York University researchers took oral samples of 732 individuals at the beginning of a 10-year study. During the study period, half of the 732 developed pancreatic cancer. An interesting correlation was discovered: Those with Porphyromonas gingivalis bacterium, a common “bug” found in those with periodontal disease (also linked to rheumatoid arthritis and infections in the upper GI and respiratory tracts as well as the colon) had a 59% higher risk for pancreatic cancer than those without that “bug” in the oral cavity. Studied individuals with the Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans, a gram-negative bacterium common among periodontal bacteria, had an increased risk for pancreatic cancer of 119%.
The results of the study were presented at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. Researchers cautioned that (A) it is uncertain whether or not the bacteria actually cause pancreatic cancer, and (B) they could not identify why the bacteria played a role in increasing pancreatic cancer risk.
It’s not all bad news. The good news is that, armed with this information, dentists and physicians may have an easy way to screen for pancreatic cancer, which is extremely important in a disease that shows very few symptoms until the cancer is too advanced to respond to treatment. The availability of an effective screening test for pancreatic cancer has been desperately sought for many years. Identifying the presence of these oral bacteria could provide that screening.
Researcher Dr. Jiyoung Ahn said, “Our study offers the first direct evidence that specific changes in the microbial mix in the mouth—the oral microbiome—represent a likely risk factor for pancreatic cancer along with older age, male gender, smoking, race, and a family history of the disease. These bacterial changes in the mouth could potentially show us who is most at risk of developing pancreatic cancer.”
Encouraged by the study, Dr. Nigel Carter, CEO of the UK Oral Health Foundation, added, “Further investigation into this association needs to be carried out but, if confirmed, there’s no reason why a saliva test to detect for pancreatic cancer could not be taken by your dentist. This would be an enormously important shift in diagnosis which could ultimately save thousands of lives a year.”
Oral health is fairly simple to maintain:
- Brush and floss at least twice daily.
- Use fluoride toothpaste.
- Cut back on sugary foods and beverages.
- See your NYC dentist twice a year.
- If you develop concerns about your oral health, such as the development of oral sores, bleeding when brushing or flossing, etc., make an additional appointment—don’t wait for your next 6-month checkup.
Your oral health is our primary concern. Here at our Lower Manhattan dental practice, we’re completely up to date on the latest technologies and treatments to attain and maintain excellent dental health. Call us today at 212-267-1884 to schedule an appointment if we haven’t seen you in the past six months or if you have any concerns about your teeth, gums or mouth.