A large number of older, postmenopausal, American women, between the ages of 56 and 86, answered a number of questions about their general health. Some of the questions asked about their dental history. Also, they were asked if they had ever had dental problems and did that including gum disease. The new report did not show the total number of women who filled out the study questions, but almost 66,000 women were put into the total study group. There were current smokers, former smokers, and non-smokers in the group.
The women in the study group with gum disease ranged from mild gum problems to serious gum, bone, and teeth problems. That means that some women had plaque build-up between the teeth and the gumline while others had diseases that affected their jaw bones. Some women even had gum diseases that ended with the loss of gum tissue and some teeth.
The Challenge of Elder Dental Care
When the study was done
The research study started in 1999 and the number of women added to the group stopped in 2003. Then, the total study group was watched on a regular basis from 2003 to 2013. For 14 years the women updated their records, and some interesting information was noticed. A number of the women (almost 7,200) reported that they got some form of cancer during the study that they did not have when the study started. The 7,200 women with cancer were 11 percent of the study group, and that means that nearly one out of every nine women were affected.
Where and how the study was done
There was no one clinic nor main office building where the women in the study group met with the research team. The women in the study did not live in one neighborhood, or in one city, or even in one state. They lived in a lot of different places across the United States. That means that they volunteered for the study and that they information was given in paper or electronic form. While their gum disease was not reported by a dentist, the women did state that they had been told that they had gum disease. The study did not say if the gum disease or the cancer development was confirmed with the women’s dentists or doctors.
What the study found
The information found during the study were:
- The women with known gum disease were at a higher risk for developing cancer than those without any gum disease.
- The increased cancer risk that may be connected with gum disease did not show any difference between smokers and non-smokers.
- More study is needed to learn if gum disease actually encourages the development of cancer, or how much connection there is, if any, to older women with gum disease and the growth of cancer.
- More study is needed to learn if the disease related bacteria in gum disease really does move to other parts of the body and cause other infections.
- Throat cancer was the highest risk for women with known gum disease.
- Other cancers reported by the women were lung, breast, skin, and gallbladder.
- Gum disease is a growing worry for today’s older women because that group of Americans is living longer than prior generations.
- Some researchers stated that the women’s gum disease may have been caused by poor dental at home care and from delayed treatment by a general dentist or gum specialist.
Why the study was done
The nine member research team at the University of Buffalo was led by a physician, a dentist, and a cancer specialist. The study was based on the idea that there might be some connection between the higher cancer risks for older women with gum disease than for those women who never had gum disease. The outcome of the study showed that the women who developed cancer during the 14-year study period were more often the women with a history of gum disease.
Lessons learned from the study
- Your oral health can affect more than your mouth, because the bacteria in your mouth can travel from your mouth to other parts of your body.
- You can learn what the signs of gum disease are, such as swollen, red, and bleeding gums. Remember that a problem with your gums will not fix itself without professional dental care.
- You can reverse the mildest form of gum disease with a good daily at home dental program of brushing, flossing, and rinsing, and with two or more regular visits with your family dentist or a dental assistant.
- You can slow down or stop future gum disease with the care of a dental gum specialist.
- With more studies, your oral health may be a way for doctors and dentists to test for and work on preventing cancer. Contact our office at Salcetti & Associates, if you have questions.
- One of the study leaders believes that your level of gum disease can be used as an important sign of your overall health.