Understanding the Connection Between Gum Health and Oral Cancer

by | Mar 9, 2024

An estimated 11.5 adults per 100,000 developed oral cancer between 2015 and 2019.[1] Oral cancer isn’t just common — it’s dangerous, with approximately one person dying from this type of cancer every hour in the United States.[2] What most people don’t realize, however, is that there is a significant connection between gum health and oral cancer. Learn more about how you can help maintain your oral health.

What Is Gum Disease?

Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, refers to infection and inflammation of the gums. Although the most common cause of gum disease is poor oral hygiene, some people tend to develop these issues even if they brush and floss twice daily.

Common signs of gum disease are:

  • Bad breath
  • Red swollen gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Soreness
  • Gum recession
  • Unpleasant taste
  • Pain when chewing
  • Loose teeth

Gum disease begins as gingivitis, with red and puffy gums that easily bleed when you brush your teeth or floss. Gingivitis is reversible because there hasn’t been any bone loss.

The next stage of gum disease is periodontitis. During this stage, bacteria have slipped under your gums, affecting the supporting bone. This leads your gums to pull away from the bone, creating pockets where more bacteria hide. This then becomes moderate periodontitis, eroding the ligaments, bone, and soft tissues that hold your teeth in place.

The next stage is advanced periodontitis, in which bone loss continues. It leads your teeth to get looser and eventually fall out.

What Is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer affects the inside of your mouth, including your gums. Early detection is essential, but it can begin with subtle signs that most people don’t realize they have until it’s more advanced. There are various locations for oral cancers to develop, including:

  • Buccal mucosa cancer
  • Gum cancer
  • Lip cancer
  • Floor of mouth cancer
  • Hard palate cancer
  • Tongue cancer

Gum cancer can occur as a result of gum disease. Signs of gum cancer include:

  • Bleeding or cracking gums
  • Red, white, or dark patches on gums
  • Thick areas of the gums

Many factors can increase your chances of developing oral cancer. If you smoke or use chewing tobacco, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, or have a family history of oral cancer, you are more likely to struggle with the disease.

Connection Between Gum Health and Oral Cancer

Your body’s immune response to the bacteria that cause the later stages of gum disease can impact your chances of developing oral cancer. It can increase your risk by 14–20%.[3]

Untreated periodontitis causes chronic inflammation in the gum and the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to causing cancer by many mechanisms, including DNA damage to the cells, defective immune response, and others.

Uncontrolled gum disease can also cause lesions in the mouth that may turn into cancer, which is why oral cancer screenings are so important. One of the challenges is that gum disease and oral cancer can look very similar, especially in the early stages. This is another reason why you should have regular check-ups.

Focusing on Dental Care

Gum health is essential for your overall well-being and to help you avoid the risks of oral cancer. Because the early signs of both gum disease and oral cancer are difficult to spot, you must get regular check-ups with your periodontist.

At Dental Implants & Periodontal Health of Rochester, we provide gum disease and oral cancer screenings you can rely on. With a team ready to offer guidance on maintaining healthy gums and overall oral health, you can avoid serious oral conditions.

Contact us at 585-685-2005 to schedule an appointment.



[1] https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/research/data-statistics/oral-cancer/incidence

[2] https://oralcancerfoundation.org/facts/

[3] https://academic.oup.com/jnci/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jnci/djx278/4804361

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