Periodontal Diseases and Other Health Issues

Recently a case control study of 124 pregnant or post-partum mothers showed that periodontal disease represents a clinically significant risk factor for pre-term low birth weight babies. If the mother had periodontal disease, there was a seven-fold chance of delivering a pre-term low birth weight baby. The low grade bacterial infection and the resulting immune system reaction appears to cause premature contraction of the uterus. Further investigations are underway in our office in collaboration with Foothills Hospital.

There appears to be an increased risk of lung infections for those with active periodontal disease and poor oral hygiene. The bacteria from the gums may travel to the lungs and cause serious infections. This process may infect patients in intensive care units and nursing home residents who are at greater risk for bacterial pneumonia.

Studies show that periodontal disease may also be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Individuals with periodontal disease have been shown to have double the risk for coronary artery disease. It is believed that the periodontal bacteria infection can cause blockage of the heart blood vessels and create these serious health problems.

Diabetics are more susceptible to periodontal disease. However, with good periodontal disease control and elimination of the chronic periodontal infection, blood sugar levels in diabetics tend to stabilize. In this way the damaging effects of Diabetes can be minimized.

Osteoporosis also appears to be a risk factor for periodontal disease due to an alteration of the metabolism of the calcium in the bone. Medications that build up the calcium in the bone will help to reduce the periodontal risk factor.

A recent study in Australia revealed that individuals with Rheumatoid arthritis have an increased risk of tooth loss as a result of periodontal disease. It seems that the activity of the immune system is the main reason for the tooth loss rather than the level of oral hygiene.

Men with gum disease apparently have a 63% increased risk of developing Pancreatic Cancer according to a Harvard based study. The study appears in the journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2007. Mouth bacteria and the body’s attempt to fight them may produce carcionogenic ( cancer causing) chemicals which may trigger the disease. However the exact connection is unclear, particulary if the mouth problem is causing the cancer or whether something unrelated is causing both.

Gum disease link to cancer risk

Bad gums are linked to health problems

Bad gums are linked to health problems (Picture for educational purposes only and does not portray any actual patient of Calgary Perio Clinic)

Gum disease, both in smokers and non-smokers, may be a warning sign of an increased risk of cancer.

Imperial College London researchers found gum disease was linked to a higher chance of lung, kidney, pancreatic and blood cancers.

Writing in Lancet Oncology, the team, who studied the health records of 50,000 men, said an immune system weakness could cause both illnesses.

The British Dental Association stressed the need for regular check-ups.

“Gum disease might be a marker of a susceptible immune system or might directly affect cancer risk” – Imperial College London researchers

The majority of Britons are said to suffer from some sort of gum disease, caused by a persistent bacterial infection, and the problem is more common in people who smoke.

However, the latest research suggests that, even in those who have never smoked, the presence of gum disease means a bigger risk of cancer.

The Imperial College team analysed questionnaires and health information provided by US men from 1986 onwards.

They found that those with a history of gum disease had a 14% higher chance of cancer compared with those with no history of gum disease.

There was a third increase in the risk of lung cancer, almost a 50% rise in the chance of kidney cancer, and a similar rise in pancreatic cancer.

Blood cell cancers such as leukaemia rose by 30% among men with gum disease.

While there was no rise in lung cancer chances among those with gum disease who had never smoked, there was a slightly higher increase in the overall risk of any cancer, and a similar rise in the rate of blood cancers.


There are a number of theories as to why the presence of gum disease might be linked to other illnesses.

People with gum infections have been found to have chemical signs that the inflammation there may be mirrored in other parts of the body – there have also been suggestions that bacteria linked to gum disease could cause problems elsewhere.

The researchers, led by Dr Dominique Michaud, said that the increase in blood cancers pointed to an immune system link.

They suggested that the persistent presence of gum disease might be a sign of weakness in the immune system which could also allow cancer to develop.

“These findings might represent a commonality in the immune function and response to inflammation, which results in susceptibility to both periodontal disease and haematological cancers.”

However, they said it was also possible that long-lasting gum disease could trigger changes in the immune response which helped cancer thrive, or that the bacteria from the gum could be directly causing the cancer in the tissues of mouth or throat when swallowed.

Dental help

However, they stopped short of saying that people with the problem should seek medical, rather than dental, help.

“At this point, we feel that any recommendations for prevention of cancer based on these findings are premature; patients with periodontal diseases should seek care from their dentists irrespective of the effect on cancer.”

A spokesman for the British Dental Association said that while dentists were trained to spot cancers in the mouth, they were becoming increasingly aware of the implications of gum disease for overall health, and were prepared to refer patients on in cases of unexpectedly serious gum disease in otherwise healthy patients.

He said: “The first thing to remember is that gum disease can be treated and prevented.

“We should really be encouraging people to visit their dentist frequently, although many people do have trouble finding an NHS dentist.

“Dentists are health professionals, and are trained to recognise situations where patients may need additional help.”

Dr Philip Preshaw, a senior lecturer in Periodontology at Newcastle University, said that the small increases in risk recorded by the study were not proof of a link.