We know that oral health is inextricably linked with your overall health, and that gum disease has serious ramifications on other health conditions. It’s been linked strongly to heart disease and to diabetes. Now a new study suggests that it might also have strong ties to breast cancer, and that women with gum disease have a significantly higher risk of breast cancer.

Gum Disease, Smoking, and Breast Cancer

This new study is based on data from postmenopausal women participating in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. It covers about 74,000 women, 26% of whom had gum disease, for an average of 6.7 years to see how many developed breast cancer. During the follow-up period, about 2100 women were diagnosed with breast cancer from the study group.

Overall, they found that women with gum disease were about 14% more likely to develop breast cancer than those without. The study was also interested in the role of how smoking might mediate the risk, so it divided women into current smokers, recent quitters (<20 years since quitting) and never smokers (plus those who quit more than 20 years ago).

Although all women with gum disease had an elevated risk even if they didn’t smoke, about 4%, that risk was much higher for women who had recently quit smoking, about 36%. Current smokers had a similar risk to that of recent quitters (32%), but the number was much smaller, including only 74 cancer cases, so they couldn’t achieve statistical significance for that risk estimate.

Explaining the Link

Of course, correlation is not causation, and the link wouldn’t be worth mentioning if we didn’t have some idea of the reasons why gum disease might increase breast cancer risk. Although this study wasn’t designed in a way that would illuminate the causal links, there are many potential ones we might point to.

For one, gum disease is one of the most common chronic inflammatory conditions, and chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer risk.

We also know that oral bacteria travel through your body, which is how they contribute to heart disease risk and other serious conditions. And some types of oral bacteria have been shown to protect cancer cells from your immune system.

Finally, since both risks are heavily influenced by genetics, it’s possible there’s a genetic link.

We don’t yet know whether treating gum disease can actually reduce breast cancer risk, but we do know that it can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, pregnancy complications, and diabetes. If you are looking for a dentist in Los Gatos that will help guard your overall health, please call (408) 354-5600 for an appointment at Top Down Dental