People with history of gum disease more likely to develop cancers – study

Link between oral and general health ‘completely overlooked’, says leading dentist

People with a history of gum disease are more likely to develop cancers, a leading Irish dentist has said in the wake of a major US study that has found clear links between the two.

Saying that the link between oral health and general health is "completely overlooked", Prof Leo Stassen, an oral surgeon expert in cancer treatment, called for greater links between dentistry and medicine.

US researchers from Harvard University found people with a history of gum disease and tooth loss appeared to have a higher risk of oesophageal (gullet) cancer and gastric (stomach) cancer.

The study, published in Gut, a specialist periodical by the British Medical Journal, found that periodontal disease is linked to a 43 per cent and 52 per cent higher risk of oesophageal cancer and gastric cancer, respectively.


Compared to people with no tooth loss, the risks of oesophageal and gastric cancer for those who lost two or more teeth were also modestly higher – 42 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively.

The Harvard researchers examined the association of history of periodontal disease and tooth loss with the risk of cancer in 98,459 women and 49,685 men from two previously published studies.

Prof Stassen, president of the Irish Dental Association, said mouth health often reflects general health.

“The more gum disease you have, the more inflammation you have; the more inflammation you have, the more we know your immune system is affected,” he said.

Dentists do not know if gum disease or tooth loss are causes, he said: “Usually people who have other reasons for not cleaning their teeth or looking after their teeth, tend to smoke, tend to drink and tend not to eat well.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times