New research indicates that having untreated gum disease could significantly increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
We all know the big risk factors for cancer such as smoking, alcohol and other dietary and lifestyle factors. What is not so well known, however is how your oral health can influence your general health, and how poor oral health can lead to an increase risk of diseases including:
• Breast cancer,
• Cardiovascular disease (people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease),
• Prostate cancer,
• Pre-term birth and low birth weight for pregnant women,
• Reduced fertility and difficulty in becoming pregnant.
This may seem unlikely, but the mechanism of action particularly in relation to heart disease is well understood.
Put simply, bacterial plaque irritates your gums, which, when inflamed look red, puffy and bleed easily. The total surface area of your gums is about 4 inches squared (about the size of the palm of your hand). If you had a 4sq inch patch of your skin constantly inflamed and bleeding, that would naturally be a concern.
Sometimes, it’s helpful to think of gum disease as a battle taking place between the warring sides of bacteria on one side, and your body’s immune system on the other side. The “shrapnel” from this war contains toxins (cytokines) which can leech into your blood system. Over a lifetime, these are very destructive to your general health. The good news is that it’s easy to prevent this, and in doing so reduce your risk of developing these diseases.
So what can you do?
Visit the dentist/hygienist for a professional clean every 6 months (3 months for periodontal disease sufferers)
Employ effective oral hygiene regimes. Make sure to clean the inside and the outside of all of your teeth, particularly where the teeth meet the gums. For most people, this is best achieved by using an electric toothbrush. However, this will not clean between the teeth, where much of the bacteria resides. To do that you should use floss, interdental brushes, a Waterpik toothbrush or Easypicks (Tepe).
Leading a healthy lifestyle, including good diet, enough sleep and minimising stress has also been shown to be effective in preventing periodontal disease.