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Link between gum disease and oral cancer found

Oral cancer has been a major concern for dental professionals for some time. It is thought to have four main causes – smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and the human papillomavirus – however there are a number of things that can exacerbate the condition. Now, a new factor has been identified.

Porphyromonas gingivalis (Pg) and Fusobacterium nucleatum (Fn) are two types of bacteria that people might commonly find in their mouths, as they are associated with gum disease. However, new research has revealed that these microbes can also incite oral cancer.

Both Pg and Fn produce lipopolysaccharide, fimbriae, proteinases and at least five different short-chain fatty acids as byproducts. These help the production of Kaposi’s sarcoma Herpesvirus (KSHV), which in turn can cause the growth of tumours and lesions in the mouth.

Put simply, the two bacteria create an environment in the mouth in which KSHV can thrive. It is KSHV that actually causes oral cancer to develop, but the bacteria have a large impact on how easy it is to contract the virus. This means there is a clear link between gum disease and oral cancer.

Fengchun Ye, lead investigator of the study published in ‘The Journal of Virology’, said: “These new findings provide one of the first looks at how the periodontal bacteria create a unique microenvironment in the oral cavity that contributes to the replication [of KSHV].”

Dentists therefore need to react to gum disease with more urgency, as the condition could end up seriously impacting patients’ health. Pg and Fn are commonly found in the saliva of people with gum disease, therefore it is important to tackle the illness before KSHV is contracted.

Oral health professionals should make every effort to inform patients of the risks associated with gum disease. Although it may seem a little bit like scare tactics, it is important that patients take their dental health seriously. Many do not realise that poor oral hygiene could easily become life-threatening in the future.

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