If you let dental plaque and calculus buildup on your teeth, then you may not only be increasing your risk of developing periodontal disease, but also your risk of developing cancer. A new study published in the online British Medical Journal, Open, has linked dental plaque with a risk of premature death due to cancer. The longitudinal study looked at the connection between dental plaque and cancer mortality in Sweden.
The study followed 1,400 randomly selected adults from Stockholm over a period of 24 years, from 1985 to 2009. At the beginning of the monitoring period the adults were in their 30s and 40s, and were interviewed to assess their risk of developing cancer. Factors taken into account included whether or not they were smokers, and levels of affluence. In addition, their oral hygiene was assessed to discover current levels of gum disease and tooth loss, as well as levels of dental plaque and calculus.
By the end of the study in 2009, 58 people had died from cancer, and 35.6% were women. The average age of death was 64 men and 61 for women. Had they lived to enjoy a normal lifespan, the women could have reasonably expected to have survived another 13 years, while the men could reasonably have expected an additional 8.5 years, making their deaths premature. The predominant cancer amongst women was breast cancer, while the men developed a range of different cancers.
The dental plaque index in those who had died was higher than amongst the survivors, with values of between 0.84 and 0.91. In comparison dental plaque values amongst the survivors ranged from 0.66 to 0.67. After all the risk factors were taken into account, then somewhat unsurprisingly age was found to double the risk of cancer, but being male increase the odds by an incredible 90%. Even after other risk factors known to be associated with premature death were taken into account, such as frequency of dental visits and lower incomes, these correlations between dental plaque and premature death remained compelling.
The study was led by Dr. Birgitta Soeder, Professor Emerita of preventative dentistry at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. According to the authors of the paper, the increased amount of dental plaque in gingival pockets may have some contributing factor towards developing cancer. However, they did point out the need for further studies to discover any true causal link. The study hypothesis was simply confirmed, in that poor oral hygiene resulting in greater amounts of dental plaque was associated with increased cancer mortality. Cancer experts have commented that though some factors were controlled during the study, others such as obesity and diet were less likely to be controlled, and both of these could be associated with plaque and mortality.