Oral Bacteria and Esophageal Cancer
We all want to have fresh breath and a nice smile, and of course no one wants to deal with multiple visits to the dentist to treat tooth decay or get bridges and implants. But, as it turns out, keeping your teeth healthy and your gums free of disease may do a lot more than helping you have beautiful pearly whites. Evidence is piling up in recent years that the health of your mouth is strongly linked to other forms of physical health. In fact, the latest research shows that gum disease appears to increase the chance of an esophageal cancer diagnosis.
The study, which took place at the New York University School of Medicine, in New York, New York, found that the presence of certain oral bacteria related to periodontal disease increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer.1 The results are based on gene sequencing, which was used to assess oral bacteria in prediagnostic mouthwash samples from 122,000 American men and women. These subjects’ oral and physical health were tracked for a period of 10 years.
There were two specific strains of bacteria in the mouth that were linked to esophageal cancer. These were Tannerella forsythia, which was associated with a 21 percent higher risk of this cancer, and Porphyromonas gingivalis, which was associated with a greater chance of developing esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, in particular. This is a less common form of the disease, often linked to smoking or heavy use of alcohol. Both of these bacteria have been shown to contribute to gum disease, including damage to the tissues and bones that hold teeth in place.
Therefore, while the study was not designed to prove cause and effect, a link was certainly established. Given the detrimental nature of these microbes, it is reasonable that they could be harmful to the tissues of the esophagus as well, especially since they would be feasibly carried from the mouth straight into the esophagus with saliva most every time we swallow. After all, it has been demonstrated that poor dental health is also related to a greater likelihood of developing numerous conditions including arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory illness. And a 2017 study at the State University of New York at Buffalo found that women with periodontal disease are at increased risk for several types of cancer, one of which was esophageal cancer.2
To make matters even more worrisome, esophageal cancer is often a deadly condition. It is the sixth leading cause of cancer mortality worldwide, with relatively low survival rates because there are few symptoms produced initially so it frequently goes undetected until a later stage. The symptoms of esophageal cancer that may eventually appear are swallowing difficulties, unexplained weight loss, chest pain, and hoarseness.
On a positive note, however, there were actually some kinds of oral bacteria found to be beneficial and tied to a lower chance of developing esophageal cancer. So it would appear that the bacteria colonizing the mouth likely affect the body in a similar way to the bacteria of the gastrointestinal system, with helpful microbes conferring some protection and others damaging our cells. The trick, of course, is to have more of the good guys and fewer of the bad guys.
Maybe some day we’ll be able to visit the dentist and get a full analysis of the bacteria residing in our mouths, both good and bad, and a treatment plan that promotes the healthy ones and works to banish the harmful ones. But until then, all we can really do is focus on maintaining the best oral hygiene possible. Go about your routine of brushing and flossing every day, taking care to include your tongue and gums in the scrubbing.
Make time to visit the dentist for checkups and cleanings regularly. While it may not be among the most enjoyable of experiences, those appointments are important for reaching areas your toothbrush and floss cannot. Natural approaches such as oil pulling can also help rid your mouth of many destructive bacteria if done regularly. You also might want to incorporate proteolytic enzymes and an avocado soy unsaponifiable based formula as part of your daily regimen for optimum periodontal health.
- 1. Peters, Brandilyn A.; et al. "Oral Microbiome Composition Reflects Prospective Risk for Esophageal Cancers." Cancer Research. 1 December 2017. Accessed 10 December 2017. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/77/23/6777.
- 2. Nwizu, NN; et al. "Periodontal Disease and Incident Cancer Risk Among Postmenopausal Women: Results from the Women's Health Initiative Observational Cohort." Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention. August 2017. Accessed 11 December 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28765338.