Brushing your teeth and keeping your gums clean does a lot more than just make for a good smile – it could even prolong your life. According to research conducted over the course of 24 years, plaque on teeth over an extended time could increase your risk of dying from cancer 13 years earlier than what would normally be expected with proper oral health.
Plaque on Teeth: Ruining More Than Just a Pretty Smile
In a mission to discover if dental plaque is a risk factor for early cancer death as a result of infection or inflammation – which are both thought to play a role in 1 in 5 cancers – researchers from Sweden tracked the health of nearly 1,400 Swedish adults from 1985-2009. Each participant went through oral clinical examination where levels of plaque on teeth, tartar, gum disease, and tooth loss were measured. They also answered a questionnaire taking note of other factors likely to increase cancer risk, such as smoking and socioeconomic status.
“Our study hypothesis was confirmed by the finding that poor [oral] hygiene, as reflected in the amount of dental plaque, was associated with increased cancer mortality. Further studies are required to determine whether there is any causal element in the observed association.”
During the study period, 58 of the participants died, 35 of which were caused by cancer. What the researchers noticed was that the dental plaque index of those who died was higher than those than individuals still living. Those who died from cancer had dental plaque index values of 0.84 to 0.91, which meant that there was a large amount of plaque on their teeth. The values among the survivors were consistently lower, at around 0.66 to 0.67, indicating that plaque on teeth and gums was only a partial problem..
“The high bacterial load on tooth surfaces and in gingival pockets over a prolonged period of time may indeed play a role in carcinogenesis,” the authors said in the published paper. “Further studies are definitely required, however, to determine whether there is any causal element in the observed association reported here.”
In the end, dental plaque was associated with a 79% increased risk of early death from cancer. Demographic data showed that the women should have lived 13 years longer and the men 8.5 years longer, so the deaths were premature, said the authors, led by Birgitta Soeder, professor emerita of preventive dentistry at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
While the research doesn’t show direct causation, the association between dental plaque and early cancer death does show how certain health problems could be existing due to other seemingly unrelatable health problems. The best and easiest ways to maintain proper oral hygiene is to avoid eating and drinking sugary foods, processed foods, and junk foods. Brushing your teeth regularly (preferably with fluoride-free toothpaste, and flossing should also be done to prevent plaque from building up. In addition to these obvious and effective preventative measures, you could also try certain techniques to enhance oral health such as oil pulling. Oil pulling benefits for oral health have been utilized for centuries.