Everyone knows that brushing and flossing your teeth is one of the simplest ways to avoid cavities, but few realize the wide-reaching effects that oral health and hygiene can have on your general health. As it turns out, poor dental hygiene is associated with an extensive list of ailments, including heart disease, dementia, arthritis, pneumonia, pregnancy complications, and more. Now, a study published in the journal BMJ has revealed one more startling connection to add to that list: failing to regularly floss is associated with an increased risk of not one, but two types of cancer.
The researcher team, a group from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, analyzed extensive data to assess the association between a patient’s history of periodontal disease and tooth loss with their risk of both esophageal and gastric cancer. After reviewing the records of 98,459 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 49,685 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, the researchers determined that there was in fact strong evidence of a link.
Those with a history of periodontal disease were associated with a 43 percent increased risk of esophageal cancer, and a 52 percent increased risk of gastric cancer. The risk levels were higher still for those patients who had lost one or more teeth.
While the research team made no firm conclusions about cause and effect, they theorized that the correlation could have to do with oral bacteria, pointing to other studies that have noted a possible connection between certain periodontal pathogens and esophageal cancer. They also pointed to the presence of nitrate-reducing bacteria in cases of advanced periodontal disease, which is known to cause gastric cancer.
So, when your dentist gives you your semi-annual reminder to brush and floss, make sure you take that advice to heart. Good oral health is about so much more than keeping your smile its whitest and brightest: it could literally save your life. And for on keeping your pearly whites in good health, This Is How You’re Brushing Your Teeth All Wrong.