A new analysis published in the Journal of Periodontology adds to our understanding of the health effects of gum disease by showing that it has been associated with a 25% increase in lung cancer risk. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women. This association is only statistical so far, but there are many potential links between the two conditions.

A Statistical Meta-Analysis

Information about this new connection comes from a statistical re-analysis of five cohort studies that included information about gum disease and lung cancer risk. Overall, the study included more than 320,000 individuals. The study also looked to correct for publication bias and other possible causes for distortion of published results.

man holding a cigarette in his hand

The study found no publication bias, but it did find a significant connection between gum disease and lung cancer risk. Individuals with gum disease were 1.24 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those without gum disease. This connection persisted even after correcting for alcohol consumption and smoking habits, which are independently associated with gum disease (and smoking is linked to lung cancer risk). The study did show that women had a slightly elevated risk of lung cancer based on their gum disease.

People with additional risk factors, such as drinking, smoking, and diabetes, were 1.36 times more likely to develop lung cancer.

Explaining the Connection

So what accounts for this connection between gum disease and lung cancer? First, we have to consider the possibility that the association is just statistical, and that there’s no actual connection between the two conditions. This seems unlikely, given the fact that the total study population here is so high.

Another related possibility is that researchers didn’t fully account for the contribution of smoking to the lung cancer risk. Smoking is one of the biggest causes of lung cancer, and it’s strongly associated with increased gum disease risk, so it might actually be the real reason for the association.

But there are also many mechanisms that could link gum disease with lung cancer. First, it could be related to the presence of oral bacteria in the lungs. Oral bacteria frequently travel to the lungs where they can contribute to the risk of pneumonia. And since oral bacteria are often implicated in oral cancer, it isn’t too implausible to think that they might contribute to the formation of lung cancer.

Another potential link is systemic inflammation. Inflammation is part of your body’s immune and healing response. As such, it plays an important role in keeping you healthy, but too much inflammation can also contribute to the development of health problems, including autoimmune disorders and cancer. Because gum disease is a chronic infection, it triggers a prolonged inflammatory response.

Protect Your Health

No matter the mechanism, the link between gum disease and lung cancer gives us another good reason to encourage everyone to make their regular dental visits and checkups. If you are looking for a dentist in Orange County, please call (949) 551-5902 for an appointment at Rice Dentistry in Irvine.