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Study finds link between gum disease and oral cancer

Gum disease one day may be added to the list of risk factors for oral cancer.

An analysis of the health records of nearly 14,000 people participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that tumors in the mouth were four times more common in those with periodontal disease than in those who had healthy gums. Pre-cancerous lesions were twice as prevalent.

Because studies have shown a consistent relationship between poor oral hygiene and cancer, the researchers weren’t surprised to find a link between gum disease, which is caused by plaque buildup, and potentially malignant mouth lesions. What was unexpected, says lead author Mine Tezal, a periodontist and doctoral student in dental epidemiology at the University of Buffalo, was the interplay of potential risks. Although smoking was not in itself a significant risk, she says, it became one when combined with gum disease and alcohol.The study was presented at a recent meeting of the American Assn. of Dental Research.

-- Dianne Partie Lange

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