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How gum disease could lead to cancer

Is oral health even more important than we thought? Well, new research from Finland has pointed to a surprising link between gum disease and the development of some cancers. And even worse, it has been linked to the risk of cancer-related death.

Periodontitis, or gum disease, is characterizedby the inflammation of the tissue surrounding the base of the teeth, or the gums.

In its more advanced stages, periodontitis might lead to the destruction of the gums and even begin to attack the bone that holds teeth in place.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 47.2 percent of adults who are over 30 years of age in the United States have some type of periodontitis. With age, this rate increases, so that 70.1 percent of U.S. adults over 65 years old have this disease.

As if living with the symptoms of periodontitis wasn’t hard enough, researchers from the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital, both in Finland, in collaboration with colleagues from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, have shown that the bacteria to blame for this disease might also be able to cause certain types of cancer — specifically pancreatic cancer.

In November 2017, Timo Sorsa — at the University of Helsinki — and team published a study in the British Journal of Cancer showing that Treponema denticola, which is the bacterium that causes periodontitis, may also be responsible for the development of some types of cancer.

 

Gum disease bacteria and cancer tumors

They noted that Treponema denticola and some gastrointestinal cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, share an enzyme: Treponema denticola chymotrypsin-like proteinase (Td-CTLP).

This enzyme, which was observed in certain cancerous tumors, is typically found in the mouth and acts as the main “boosting” agent in the development of gum disease.

Next, the researchers investigated the molecular mechanisms at play that might explain the link between the bacterium responsible for periodontitis and the development of cancer tumors elsewhere in the body.