11/06/2012 19:46 BST

Poor Dental Hygiene Linked To Cancer Risk

Poor oral hygiene may increase risk of cancer death, scientists claim.

An increased amount of dental plaque has been linked to premature cancer death by researchers in Sweden.

An observational study, published in the BMJ Open online journal, examined 1,390 people between 1985 and 2009.

At the start of the research, all participants were quizzed on factors likely to increase their cancer risk. Their mouth hygiene was also assessed.

dental health

After 24 years, 58 patients had died - 35 as a result of cancer. Those who died had a significantly higher amount of dental plaque than survivors, researchers discovered.

The dental plaque index in those who had died was higher than those who had survived.

Those who died scored between 0.84 to 0.91 on the index - indicating that the gum area of the teeth had been covered with plaque - and the survivors had consistently lower scores of 0.66 to 0.67 - indicating only partial plaque coverage.

The average age of death was 61 for the women and 60 for the men. The women would have been expected to live around 13 years longer, and the men an additional 8.5 years, so their deaths could be considered premature, say the authors.

The authors write: "Based on the present findings, the high bacterial load on tooth surfaces and in gingival pockets over a prolonged time may indeed play a role in carcinogenesis."

However, the authors caution that their findings do not prove that dental plaque causes or definitely contributes to cancer and call for further research into the subject.

"Our study hypothesis was confirmed by the finding that poor (mouth) hygiene, as reflected in the amount of dental plaque, was associated with increased cancer mortality."

"Further studies are required to determine whether there is any causal element in the observed association."

Dental plaque, which indicates poor oral hygiene and is a potential source of infections, has previously been implicated in systemic health problems.

It is made up of a film of bacteria, which covers the surfaces of the teeth, including the gaps between the teeth and gums.


These study findings follow other worrying statistics about the how our financial woes are playing havoc with our dental health.

The UK’s current economic problems are proving bad news for the nation’s teeth as an increasing number of Brits are looking for ways to save money.

The British Dental Health Foundation is warning that any cut-backs to spending on oral health is a false economy and will cost more in the long run – physically and financially.

The warnings have been prompted by a new survey commissioned by the Foundation which suggests that over a third of adults (36%) are more likely to delay any dental treatment needed due to cost and over a quarter say they are visiting their dentist less often as a result of the current economic problems.

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One in five (17%) people say they are spending less on their oral care and over a quarter (27%) are buying cheaper oral care products including toothpaste, mouthwash and toothbrushes.

Dental health experts are particularly concerned that one in four people believe visiting the dentist is becoming less of a priority.

Statistics show that the number of people with tooth decay is over 40% lower amongst people who visit their dentist at least once a year.

Not surprisingly, people on lower incomes are most at risk of deteriorating oral health in the current economic climate. One in four people (24%) on lower incomes are likely to refuse dental treatment and approaching four out of every ten people are more likely to delay treatment.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, is hoping to remind anyone thinking of over-looking their oral health, to think again.

Dr Carter told HuffPost Lifestyle: “Our findings show that oral health is not recession-proof and that too many people are willing to gamble with their oral health. Unfortunately, they are running the risk of storing up a wide range of health problems and even bigger costs in the future. Many people are entitled to free dental treatment on the NHS and it’s always worth checking, especially if your circumstances change.

“A regular oral health routine is the only way to avoid problems with teeth and gums. This includes maintaining regular visits to the dentist. Oral health can quickly deteriorate and regular check-ups with a dentist are essential.

“The cost of poor oral health is not just cosmetic. Fillings, having teeth removed and other repair work are all considerably more expensive than the price of a check-up. The pain of toothache can be excruciating and is something to be avoided at any cost."