Although periodontal disease and oral cancers are both located in the mouth, until recently, there was never thought to be a connection between the two. New evidence is coming to light to show that those with periodontal disease increase their risk to tongue cancer.
There are many causes of oral cancer – unhealthy diets rich in sugars, poor diets, large consumption of tobacco, heavy alcohol consumption and heredity. In addition, there are different types of oral cancers – lip, tongue and really anywhere in the mouth. Tongue cancer is the most common and the most dangerous. The chance of this disease is high in men who over age 60, less in those below 40 years of age and less in women.
In the primary stages of tongue cancer, a small lump or thick white patch appears on the tongue and later is converted into an ulcer. If it is not treated properly, the cancer spreads to other places in the mouth, such as gums, lower jaw, lymph nodes and neck. When the tumor enlarges the tongue also becomes more rigid and the ability for the movement of the tongue is reduced. The tumor may also affect speech and swallowing.
The common symptoms of oral cancer are patches inside the mouth, lips that are white, lips that are both red and white, a sore on lip or in the mouth that won’t heal, bleeding in the mouth, difficulty in swallowing, a lump in the neck, or loose teeth.
The treatment methods for oral cancers are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The combination of treatments may vary depending on the patient’s stage. A pain relieving treatment is recommended for patients to decrease the side effects.
Surgery is used to remove the tumor in the mouth. This is the standard treatment for oral cancer. Radiation therapy is also an essential method of treatment. This is given only in the affected area. This treatment is given for those who have small tumors and surgery is not indicated. Radiation may be used before or after surgery to kill the cancer cells.
There are two types of radiation therapy used to treat oral cancer – external radiation and internal radiation. In external radiation the radiation comes from a machine. In internal radiation the radiation comes from radioactive material placed in seeds, needles or thin plastic tubes put directly in the tissue. Chemotherapy is another method of treatment. In this method, anticancer drugs are used to kill cancer cells.
Periodontal disease is a chronic infectious inflammation around the tooth and gums. Signs of periodontal disease are: bad breath that won’t go away, red or swollen gums, tender or bleeding gums, painful chewing, loose teeth or sensitive teeth. Although late stages of periodontal disease show signs, early stages do not, so regular six month visits to the dentist are recommended. Causes of periodontal disease are poor oral hygiene, smoking, some medications, some illnesses and genetic susceptibility.
In a recent study, the gum disease periodontitis was associated with an increased risk of developing tongue cancer. Dr. Mine Terzal, from the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in New York, and colleagues compared 51 white men with newly diagnosed cancer of the tongue to 54 cancer-free “controls” who were seen during the same period. The study excluded people younger than 21 years, those who lacked teeth, had any previous malignancy, and those with a weaken immune system.
The Archives of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery reported that each millimeter reduction in bone was associated with a 5-fold rise in the risk of tongue cancer.
“Periodontitis is a chronic disease that progresses very slowly,” Dr. Terzal noted. “Seeing alveolar bone loss on X-rays indicates the infection has existed for decades, making it clear that periodontitis preceded the cancer diagnosis, and not vice-versa.”
Periodic self-examination of your mouth is the best way to detect the early signs of oral and throat cancer. Cleaning your teeth at least 2 times a day and visiting the dentist 2-3 time a year are recommended for good oral hygiene and decreasing the risk of periodontal disease. Since the studies concluded that there is a strong relationship between periodontal diseases and oral cancer, decreasing the risk of periodontal disease will also decrease the risk of tongue cancer.