Brushing and flossing teeth regularly are very important habits to keep up personal hygiene. Now, there’s one more reason to maintain them. Researchers have found that gum disease bacteria give people a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.
The study monitored the dental health of some 122,000 Americans for a period of ten years, and found that having two specific types of bacteria that cause gum disease may increase the risks for the cancer, UPI reports.
The presence of the bacteria Tannerella forsythia, specifically, was associated with as much as a 21% jump for developing esophageal tumors, according to lead author Jiyoung Ahn, an associate director for population science at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
In previous studies, gum disease has been linked to a spike in developing heart disease – the number one killer, globally. However, one esophageal cancer expert said that these new findings have yet to prove a direct causal link between the bacteria and the cancer.
Dr. Anthony Starpoli, associate director of esophageal endotherapy at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said, “What is not clear is whether the presence of these bacteria or the resultant periodontal disease is primarily responsible for the development of cancer.”
Starpoli does believe that specialists “consider a proper evaluation of the oral cavity as well as the remainder of the digestive tract in the hope of early diagnosis of esophageal cancer.”
Esophageal cancer is the eighth most common kind of cancer worldwide and the sixth leading cause of cancer death, the study authors noted. It’s often only detected and diagnosed at a late stage, so survival rates are between 15 to 25% only.
Esophageal cancer is a highly fatal cancer, and there is an urgent need for new avenues of prevention, risk stratification, and early detection.
In a news release from the American Association for Cancer Research, Ahn pointed out that finding out more about bacteria living in the mouth “may potentially lead to strategies to prevent esophageal cancer, or at least to identify it at earlier stages.”
The study was published in the journal Cancer Research.