We all know that one of the main causes of oral cancer is smoking, but it is predicted that within 10 years gum disease could well rival tobacco as the main cause of oral cancer.
A recent study by the British Dental Health Foundation has discovered that gum disease may well be directly linked to the increase in the number of cases of head and neck cancer. Specifically the study found that those patients with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) experienced a significantly higher loss of bone, which is considered to be a major factor in severe gum disease.
In the UK every year over 6000 people are diagnosed with head or neck cancer, and unfortunately the survival rate is only around two thirds, with around 2000 people every year losing their lives. Of course while it is still true that currently the major causes of head and neck cancer include tobacco, excessive drinking and a poor diet, these factors themselves can directly contribute towards gum disease, and it is often the case that gum disease diagnosed early by a dentist can help catch an HPV positive tumour early enough to potentially save a patient’s life.
This link between periodontal disease and cancer is something which the British Dental Health Foundation is trying to make the public much more aware of.
Not only can better oral hygiene help to reduce the number of instances of oral cancer, thereby encouraging more people to visit their dentist sooner, but there is a greater chance that symptoms can be spotted much earlier.
Being Realistic About The Prevalence Of Gum Disease
It’s important to be aware of course of the fact that whilst most of us will at some point in our lives experience gum disease, it is still something which is entirely preventable.
By having a good oral health routine, which of course includes regular checkups and cleaning by a dentist, it is not overstating the argument to suggest that lives can very well be saved.
Another study carried out at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden also concluded that a failure to brush teeth properly could very well increase the probability of a premature death resulting from oral cancer. We’re not talking about weeks or months here, but a staggering 13 years premature.
When you consider that by brushing your teeth for 2 minutes in the morning and 2 minutes in the evening, the amount of time over the course of 80 years adds up to just a little over 81 days spent brushing teeth. 81 days for an extra 13 years of life seems like a pretty good deal, and it is clearly important to make sure the public is educated on what it actually means when we say that good oral health is important.
Dental Hygiene To Be Promoted More Widely
The importance of regular and effective brushing of teeth, using things such as mouthwash and regular flossing, and of course visiting a dentist for regular checkups are all issues which we are likely to see promoted much more widely by the British Dental Health Foundation.
For those already working in the dental profession, seeing patients on a regular basis, it is important to make sure that our patients are aware of these sorts of discoveries. Obviously it’s not appropriate to scare our patients, but it is sometimes perhaps beneficial to draw to their attention the seriousness of poor oral hygiene.
After all, good oral hygiene is not hard, and the advice we can offer might well be very easy for patients to follow, from making sure that subsequent checkups are booked before they leave the surgery, to offering recommendations even to adults on the choice of toothbrush or toothpaste they use. Ultimately it’s not just about saving smiles, but saving lives.