Our mouth is a true microbial paradise: a single 10-second kiss between two people allows the exchange of around 80 million bacteria! Under normal hygienic conditions (regular brushing of the teeth), these bacteria are not able to establish themselves in a permanent way on the teeth and cause few problems; But when allowed to grow, they can stick to their surface and form a kind of sticky, whitish coating known as dental plaque.
In addition to causing perforations in tooth enamel (cavities), plaque can worsen over time and lead to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), which causes significant damage to the tissues surrounding the tooth, including the anchoring bone (periodontitis).
Gateway of bacteria
Another danger of lesions that occur on the gums is that they can be an entry point for plaque bacteria into the bloodstream. The bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis, for example, is able to squeeze itself between gum cells and use the bloodstream to establish itself in several places in the body.
The immune system naturally tries to eliminate this intruder, but the bacterium has more than one trick up its sleeve and has developed a number of weapons that allow it to bypass this immunity. As a result, the inflammatory response is powerless to fight the bacteria and even makes the problem worse by accelerating the destruction of surrounding tissue.
Recent studies suggest that this bacterial infiltration, and the inflammation that accompanies it, may play a role in the development of certain cancers. For example, by comparing the composition of the oral bacterial flora of healthy people and those with pancreatic cancer, a team of New York researchers observed that the presence of P. gingivalis in the mouth was associated with a 59% higher risk of pancreatic cancer, an increase that even reaches 120% for another bacteria responsible for periodontal disease, Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans.
These findings are consistent with a previous study that observed that people who had high levels of antibodies against P. gingivalis (a marker for the presence of this bacteria in the blood) had twice the risk of developing pancreatic cancer .
Finally, another team of scientists observed that 61% of biopsies taken from people with adenocarcinoma of the esophagus were colonized by P. gingivalis, whereas this bacterium is completely absent in samples from the esophagus. We can believe that this bacterial infection has a role in the development of this cancer due to a greater metastatic potential of the tumors that contain the bacteria, as well as a reduced survival of the patients.
A healthy mouth, a healthy body
These studies indicate that the health of the teeth can greatly affect the general functioning of the body by acting as a gateway for certain pathogenic bacteria capable of supporting the development of diseases as serious as cancer. Taking care of your teeth by brushing them regularly and giving them all the necessary care should therefore be considered a basic hygiene measure that has a positive effect on the whole body.
(1) Card R et al. Shaping the oral microbiota through intimate kissing. Microbiome 2014; 2:41.
(2) Fan X et al. Human oral microbiome and prospective risk of pancreatic cancer: a population-based, nested case-control study. AACR Annual Meeting, New Orleans, April 19, 2016.
(3) Michaud DS et al. Plasma antibodies to oral bacteria and risk of pancreatic cancer in a large European prospective cohort study. Gut. 2013; 62: 1764-1770.
(4) Gao S et al. Presence of Porphyromonas gingivalis in the esophagus and its association with the clinicopathological characteristics and survival in patients with esophageal cancer. Infecting Agent Cancer. 2016; 11:3.