We recently wrote about how visits to your dentist could save your life because of many health problems associated with gum disease. But now a new study shows that there’s even more cause for making your regular dental checkups.

The study has linked pancreatic cancer with the presence of certain oral bacteria.

Bacteria under a microscope

Bacteria Correlated with Cancer Risk

Researchers from New York University used data from a large study on cancer risk factors to determine this connection. In this study, a large number of subjects received comprehensive medical exams, including dental exams and surveys about various lifestyle factors. The subjects were then followed for nearly a decade.

To examine risk factors for pancreatic cancer, researchers took data from 361 men and women who developed pancreatic cancer over the course of the study, and compared it to data from 371 age-matched controls who did not develop pancreatic cancer.

One risk factor seemed to be the presence of certain oral bacteria, detected using a mouthwash sample at the beginning of the study. People who had Porphyromonas gingivalis were 59% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and those who had Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans were 50% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. These are two species of oral bacteria that are commonly associated with gum disease.

What Makes Pancreatic Cancer so Deadly?

As we noted before, pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer. Five-year survival rates for pancreatic cancer can be as low as 12% even if it is diagnosed in an early stage. For later stages, five-year survival rates drop to 1%. Some pancreatic cancers can be treated with surgery, and these have a much higher survival rate, over 60%, but surgical treatment requires early detection.

Is This a Real Link?

This is not the first study to link oral bacteria and pancreatic cancer. In 2012, studies not only linked gum disease with an increased pancreatic cancer risk, but identified the presence of antibodies related to P. gingiva as being associated with a 50% higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

The current study has the limitation of being only a presentation at a scientific conference, not a peer-reviewed published paper. This means its conclusions haven’t been thoroughly evaluated.

And, although there are several studies showing that this link seems to be real, no research has yet shown it to be a causal link.

So what can we do with this information? One thing we can do is to make you aware of risk factors so you can get screened for pancreatic cancer early. At River Edge Dental, we perform genetic testing of oral bacteria, so you’ll know whether you have these oral bacteria and can talk to your doctor about your risk levels. You can also keep an eye out for other warning symptoms, such as changes in appetite, taste, or weight.

Your oral health is intimately connected to your overall health, and we strive to make sure all of our patients live long, healthy, happy lives. If you are looking for a dentist that is concerned about your overall health, please call (201) 343-4044 for an appointment at River Edge Dental, New Jersey’s center for general & cosmetic dentistry.