Gum disease is again linked to a dreaded, potentially fatal ailment

Gum disease, a seemingly mild condition, can actually contribute to some of the most feared diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

That’s a big reason why these two statistics should cause alarm:

  • Three out of four Americans suffer from some level of gum disease
  • Only 3 percent of people with gum disease seek help for their condition

That’s a large and dangerous disconnect.

Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums that ranges from mild gingivitis to bacterial infection called periodontitis. About half of all Americans over age 30 have periodontitis.

New research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute sheds new light on the periodontitis link to cancer — and specifically to lung cancer.

Tufts University School of Medicine researchers analyzed 15 years of data collected from nearly 7,500 seniors who participated in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC). Results showed that serious gum disease spiked cancer risk by 24 percent.

But the real shock in these results is found in the number of lung cancer cases: Lung cancer was two times more common among participants with infected gums compared with those who had healthy gums.

This research confirms a 2016 meta-analysis in which Chinese researchers investigated five studies that included more than 321,000 participants. That analysis found that people with periodontitis were 124 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than people without the gum disease.

These studies could help explain why as much as 15 percent of lung cancers occur in non-smokers. That’s a sizable slice considering that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, taking the lives of more people than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined!

Besides smoking, other causes of lung cancer include exposure to radon gas, second-hand smoke, and environmental pollutants. So obviously, it’s quite common to have multiple risks for lung cancer, even if you’ve never smoked.

And when gum disease is added to that mix, risk spikes even higher.

Researchers aren’t clear on how an inflammatory infection in the gums could increase cancer risk in other parts of the body. <a href=””>But Dr. Mark Micozzi gave us an insight into how this could happen in an article I sent you last spring</a>.

In discussing how periodontitis increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Micozzi explained that invading bacteria carry antigens that rev up the immune system to make antibodies that go on the attack. When the immune system is out of sync, bacterial infection can confuse the antibodies, causing them to attack a part of the body like it’s a foreign invader.

But there’s a bit of good news hidden in all these warnings. One of the studies analyzed in the Chinese research found that when periodontal disease is successfully treated, lung cancer risk appears to be significantly reduced.

The obvious bottom line here is that dental hygiene should be regarded as seriously as any other health issue. And as we’ve seen with many other chronic health problems, this one takes on particular urgency as we age and our teeth and gums begin to show the effects of a lifetime of use.


P.S. — For more advice from Dr. Micozzi on how to prevent inflammation and one particularly dangerous disease, cancer, join us on Sunday, February 11 at 3 p.m.

Dr. Micozzi will be hosting his online Cancer Survival Summit and revealing ways you or a loved one can treat, survive, and even prevent cancer from developing in the first place. If you’re interested in learning more, click here.


What Is the Link Between Gums and Cancer?
People’s Pharmacy
January 18, 2018
Study: gum disease may increase lung cancer risk
The American Academy of Periodontology
June 23, 2016