Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast says the latest study to link gum disease to cancer shows it’s important to think about health on a cellular level
AFTER years of compartmentalising the body, there is a shift towards a more whole-body health philosophy.
Many of us view the state of our health in a hugely macro way; however, I would encourage you to think small, really small, really really small. The body works on a cellular level, with each cell doing different things and different interactions going on in each cell.
These small-scale interactions in the body are demonstrated in new research from Finland which has pointed to a surprising link between gum disease and the development of some cancers, specifically pancreatic cancer.
In November 2017 Timo Sorsa’s team at the University of Helsinki published a study in the British Journal of Cancer showing that Treponema denticola, which is one of the bacteria that causes gum disease, may also be responsible for the development of some types of cancer.
They noted that gum disease bacteria and some gastrointestinal cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, share an enzyme with the catchy name, treponema denticola chymotrypsin-like proteinase (Td-CTLP).
This enzyme was observed in certain cancerous tumours and also acts as the main “boosting” agent in the development of gum disease.
Taking other research into account, the Finnish team concluded that the inflammatory characteristic of gum disease may make it easier for harmful bacteria to travel to other parts of the body, allowing them to act as an “accelerator” for cancer cells.
Gum disease is when the bone around the teeth is eaten away, the gums swell and bleed. In the more advanced stages the gum recedes and teeth fall out. I couldn’t stress enough how gum disease is a silent disease as it only gets painful in the end stages. Pain is only one symptom of something wrong in your body but most people only act if something is painful.
That’s why it’s important to get checked by your dentist to assess the condition of your gums. To a patient their teeth can look perfectly normal and feel comfortable but under the gum there can be extensive bone loss.
Gum disease is very treatable and there are a range of treatments including deep cleaning, gum and bone grafting and bite rehabilitation that the dentist may suggest if appropriate.
Successful treatment of gum disease requires the patient to play their part; effective cleaning (the dental team need to show you what to do individually), a tooth healthy diet, good underlying health and not smoking will go a long way to achieve healthy gums and promote overall body health.