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Oral Bacteria Linked to Esophageal Cancer

Another important reason to take care of your teeth has just been revealed, and many dentists are hoping it will encourage patients to pay closer attention to their oral health. According to a study published in the December 2017 issue of the journal Cancer Research, when no other risk factors were present (such as the patient having a high BMI, or regularly smoking or drinking alcohol), patients who had certain oral bacteria in their mouth had an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer. In fact, that same bacteria found in patients with gum disease was present in the esophagus of patients with esophageal cancer.


The findings were discovered when scientists tested oral wash samples from 122,000 subjects in two separate oral health studies. After 10 years, the researchers again tested the participants and found that 106 of them had developed esophageal cancer. The scientists compared these data to the original samples of oral microbiota and found that the patients whose initial samples contained the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis had higher instances of esophageal cancer after a decade.

"This is very startling news, because esophageal cancer has a very low survival rate," says Dr. Michelle Simpson, a dentist in Wilmington, North Carolina. "We’re talking a five-year survival rate of 15 to 25 percent."

Worse yet, despite esophageal cancer being the eighth most common type of cancer, it is the sixth deadliest, due to historically late diagnosis. That’s because some of the warning signs of esophageal cancer often mimic less serious ailments like heartburn and a persistent cough.

According to Simpson, though the news is unexpected, it may not be such a bad thing in the end

"The good news is that if you take excellent care of your oral health by brushing and flossing your teeth and by getting regular dental cleanings, you can reduce your risk of developing this type of esophageal cancer without even really trying," she says.

As for those patients who neglect their oral health, Simpson remains concerned.

 "What we need is better methods of detection for esophageal cancer, but we also need better education," says Simpson. "The more people understand that, ‘Hey, gum disease doesn’t just give you puffy gums; it could literally kill you,’ hopefully the better care they will take of their oral health."

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