Gum disease may lead to head and neck cancer

September 22, 2009

The health hazards caused by chronic periodontitis (gum disease) extend way beyond the mouth. For years people have been warned that persistent periodontitis can cause heart disease. Now a new study suggests that gum disease may also be a risk factor for cancers of the head and neck. The study conducted by Dr. Mine Tezal, from The State University of New York, Buffalo, and colleagues included 266 patients with cancers of the head or neck treated between 1999 and 2005, and 207 control subjects.

Periodontitis was determined by alveolar bone loss seen on x-ray/ Alveolar bone is the ridge of bone that surrounds the roots of the teeth, holding them in place. Loss of this bone is typically seen with severe periodontal disease. With each millimeter of alveolar bone loss, the risk of head and neck cancer increased more than 4-fold, the report indicates. The link was seen even in subjects who had never smoked or used alcohol. The study is published in the September 2009 issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.