As patients of Tigard dentist Dr. Greg Williams already know, brushing and flossing rank as the two most important habits patients can perform daily to protect their long-term oral health. Plaque – a sticky biofilm comprised of food particles that linger in the mouth after eating and harmful oral bacteria – clings to the surface of our teeth where it slowly erodes away tooth enamel and causes gum inflammation.
Brushing helps to scrub the surface of our teeth clean of plaque, while flossing removes plaque from areas of our mouth a toothbrush cannot reach, such as between our teeth and below the gum line.
The elimination of plaque from our mouth significantly reduces our risk for tooth decay and gum disease. Now, a new study also suggests that brushing your teeth daily could also help to reduce your risk of bowel cancer as well. That’s because the oral bacteria that causes gum disease and bleeding gums can travel throughout the body via the bloodstream to the bowel where they could trigger the development of cancerous cell or make existing tumors worse.
Fusobacterium is hundreds of times more commonly found in cancerous tumors than in normal healthy cells. Researchers have now discovered that the microbes can make pre-cancerous growths in the bowel become cancerous. They can also cause any existing tumors in the bowel to grow larger.
Researches are investigating how the bacteria travel through the bloodstream to the stomach. One theory states that this may occur due to bleeding gums.
The Mouth Body Connection
Researchers discovered that the bacteria contain a protein that enables them to stick to sugar molecules attached to benign growths referred to as polyps as well as cancerous bowel tumors. The bacteria do not require oxygen, making them well suited for living in the bowel. After attaching to the tumors or polyps, the presence of the bacteria encourages their growth, according to a study published in the journal Cell Growth and Microbe.
By targeting this process, researchers involved in the study believe that it may lead to the development of new drugs designed to help treat bowel cancer, a disease that one out of 20 people will develop in their lifetimes. Researchers hope that by gaining a better understanding of the mechanism that causes accelerated growth they may be able to prevent people from developing cancerous tumors. Additionally, researchers believe the findings of this study suggest that drugs specifically targeting the same or similar mechanism used by bacterial sugar-binding proteins could possibly prevent these type of bacteria from furthering the development of colorectal cancer.
Fusobacterium exacerbate gum disease due it acting as a base around teeth and gums for other bacteria to bind around, which allows plaque to buildup.
In addition to making cancerous cells worse, the bacteria have also been found to make the bowel condition ulcerative colitis worse. Ulcerative colitis has also been linked to cancer.
Fusobacterium is rarely ever found in the stomach of healthy patients. This fact caused researchers to speculate that oral microbes might use the bloodstream to reach colorectal tumors. To test this theory, researchers injected fusobacteria into two types of mice subjects that had either malignant or precancerous colorectal tumors.
In both groups of mice, the fusobacteria gathered more in colorectal tumors when compared to healthy nearby tissue.
Researchers also located fusobacteria in the majority of human colorectal cancer metastases tested, but failed to find the bacteria in the majority of the samples taken from liver biopsies that were free of tumors.
When viewed together, the results of this study suggest that fusobacteria travel through the bloodstream to reach colorectal tumors, and then use their specific proteins to bind to host cells and proliferate in tumors, thereby accelerating cancerous tissue growth.
Protecting Your Oral & Overall Health
This latest study is just one of many that has found compelling links between an individual’s oral and overall health. In addition to increasing the risk of cancer, studies have found that individuals suffering from gum disease have a significantly higher risk of developing a range of chronic diseases that include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity.
What these studies are making clear is that our oral health matters more now than ever before. Brushing, flossing, and scheduling regular appointments to see Tigard dentist Dr. Greg Williams means not only successfully lowering your risk of gum disease, but also improving long-term health.
So the next time you consider skipping brushing, remember that the habit means more to your body than just ensuring a great looking smile.