Poor oral hygiene leads to the formation of dental plaque, a bacterial biofilm which covers the surfaces of the teeth, including the gaps between the teeth and gums. Dental plaque plays a role in oral diseases such as caries and periodontal disease that can eventually lead to tooth loss.
Dental plaque also produces high inflammation levels and many studies have linked oral health to heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and prostatitis.
Now, Swedish scientists suggests that people who have more plaque on their teeth and gums are more likely to die prematurely from cancer.
An observational study of almost 1,400 people in Stockholm between 1985 and 2009 revealed that the 35 participants who died of cancer during this period had had more dental plaque covering larger surface areas of their teeth and gums than survivors.
The average age of death was 61 for the women and 60 for the men. The women would have been expected to live around 13 years longer, and the men an additional 8.5 years, so their deaths could be considered premature, the authors said.
The Swedish study said that dental plaque was associated with a 79 percent increased risk of premature death, with older age and being male increasing the odds.
The researchers cautioned that their findings show only an association between plaque and a raised risk of early cancer death, and did not prove that dental plaque causes or definitely contributes to cancer. They called for further studies into the link.
The findings are published on-line in the BMJ Open: Söder B, Yakob M, Meurman JH, Andersson LC, Söder P. The association of dental plaque with cancer mortality in Sweden. A longitudinal study. BMJ Open 2012;2:e001083 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-
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Learn more about healthy teeth and gums at the American Dental Association