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Breast Cancer linked to Oral Health

Updated: 28th April 2021

It is a now a well-known fact that oral hygiene impacts directly to one’s overall health.  Amongst the bacteria that thrives in the mouth, certain strains that cause gum disease have also been linked with pneumonia, prostate cancer, stroke, diabetes as well as breast cancer.

In a study published in the Breast Cancer Research and Treatment Journal, a survey of 3,273 subjects found that women with chronic periodontal disease had a higher incidence of breast cancer.  In addition, a study in the International Journal of Cancer Research found that women with poor oral health or gum disease are 11 times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Researchers believe the increased risk is in part due to inflammation caused by gum disease, which allows bacteria and viruses to enter the blood stream, causing the body to be more vulnerable to other threats.  As the body works hard to fight off the invaders, all that work can suppress and place an extra burden on the body’s immune response.  It can also contribute to abnormal cell changes, resulting in certain cancers, including breast cancer.

According to the Breast Cancer Network Australia, the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer by age 85 is 1 in 8 for women and 1 in 715 for men.  With these odds, most of us know someone who has or will be diagnosed with breast cancer sometime in their lives.  Fortunately, dentistry can play an important role in both reducing the occurrence of breast cancer and in making the treatment process more comfortable.

Gum disease should never be ignored and regular preventative care examinations are recommended every 6 months.  If cancer has been diagnosed, it’s important to resolve dental problems before cancer treatment begins.

With medications that suppress white blood cells, which normally protect against infection, deep cleans should be done in advance before cancer treatment.  While undergoing treatment, gentle oral hygiene is important to avoid further infection, which is particularly dangerous with a suppressed immune system.

While dental health can impact cancer treatment plans, the cancer treatments themselves can impact oral health, with more than one-third of people being treated for breast cancer develop unpleasant and painful side effects.  Mucositis (severe oral inflammation), thrush (oral yeast infection) bacterial infections or dry mouth often occur during cancer treatments.

In general, consistently practising good oral hygiene can help to limit side effects caused by breast cancer treatment, and regular dental check-ups keep gum disease at bay.

With all of the research out there linking oral health to overall health, it’s important to be proactive with dental health, particularly if family history indicates a higher risk for cancer.  If you have any concerns, feel free to call one of our friendly staff to arrange a time to speak to one of our dentists.  We’ll endeavour to address any concerns you may have, and help you achieve your oral health objectives.