Having gum disease increases your risk for many health problems other than tooth loss, such as heart disease. To add to the list, a study from Harvard summarized in a letter published online July 20, 2020, by the journal Gut suggests that the microbes camping out between your teeth and gums may affect your risk for cancers of the stomach and esophagus. Harvard scientists analyzed health data from two large studies that included almost 150,000 men and women. In up to 28 years of follow-up, people with a history of periodontal (gum) disease were 43% more likely to develop esophageal cancer and 52% more likely to develop gastric (stomach) cancer compared with people whose gums were healthier. The risk was even higher in those with gum disease severe enough to cause tooth loss.
The study is observational and doesn’t prove that gum disease causes cancer, but it could mean that someday doctors will include a look at your gum health when assessing your overall risk. Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent gum disease. The American Dental Association recommends that you brush your teeth twice per day, floss at least once per day, and get a dental exam and cleaning regularly.