Does Gum Disease Have a Link to Cancer, Dementia, Stroke?

Suzanne Allard Levingston | The Washington Post | October 1, 2016

Open wide. There’s a host of researchers peering inside your mouth, and you may be surprised at what they hope to find. They’re looking for a connection between gum disease and illnesses such as breast cancer and even dementia. What they’re seeing in there is intriguing: possible relationships between gum or periodontal disease and diabetes, heart disease, stroke and at-risk pregnancies. Some studies have been pursuing an association between bleeding gums and pancreatic cancer. Others are looking at whether there’s a connection between mouth bacteria and Alzheimer’s.

But experts are far from understanding what these links might mean. Studies’ conclusions are carefully phrased to avoid implying that they are definitive, because the exact role of our gums in overall health has yet to be determined. It could be that gum disease exacerbates other diseases, or gum disease might be a symptom of other conditions. In the meantime, extra dental care for those with gum disease and certain at-risk conditions has become common, pragmatic practice.

Nearly half of all Americans age 30 and older have some form of gum disease; in people 65 and older, 70 percent have some degree of periodontal disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gum disease, or periodontitis, starts with a slimy film of bacteria. This plaque sticks to teeth and gums, and if not brushed or flossed away, it can burrow below the gumline. Some people are genetically inclined toward it. Signs of gum disease include bleeding, red or swollen gums; areas where the gum seems separated from the teeth; bad breath; and loose teeth, which can cause changes in your bite, according to the American Dental Association...