Poor oral health can do more than endanger your teeth and gums. It can increase your risk of developing liver cancer by 75%.
That’s the upshot of recent findings by researchers at Queens University in Northern Ireland. After analyzing the health records of more than 450,000 people in the United Kingdom, they found about 4,000 cases of gastrointestinal cancers — including those affecting the liver, colon and pancreas. Among those cases, 13% of the patients reported having poor oral health. Researchers found the strongest association between liver cancer and oral problems such as bleeding gums, loose teeth and mouth ulcers.
The findings also revealed that poor oral health was more common among a particular demographic — younger, less-affluent women who ate fewer than two daily servings of fruit and vegetables.
Exactly how oral health influences liver cancer is unknown, but the researchers have a few culprits in mind. One is the role that oral and gut microbes play in disease development. The other theory is that missing teeth and other oral health problems may lead to people eating softer and possibly less-nutritious foods.
The American Cancer Society says liver cancer is the fastest-growing cause of cancer deaths in the United States, with a death rate that has surged 43% from 2000 to 2016. The five-year survival rate for localized liver cancer is 31%.
The good news is that up to half of liver cancer cases are preventable. In addition to better oral health, other manageable risk factors include smoking, alcohol use and obesity. But start with this simple advice: Keep your mouth clean and see a dentist regularly.