BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Besides a pretty smile, new research has been continually released in recent years illustrating that a healthy mouth promotes a healthy body and mind. A recent study conducted at Queens University Belfast is the latest of such reports, finding that poor oral health can significantly raise one’s risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which is the most common form of liver cancer.
A very large population sample of 469,000 people from the United Kingdom was analyzed for the research. The researchers originally set out to investigate the connection between oral health problems and the onset of various gastrointestinal cancers (liver, colon, rectum and pancreatic). Through the use of complex scientific models, the relationship between cancer risk and self-reported dental issues, such as painful or bleeding gums, oral ulcers, and loose teeth, was estimated.
The researchers didn’t find any significant associations between poor oral health and most forms of gastrointestinal cancer. However, they did note a “substantial link” when it came to liver cancer.
“Poor oral health has been associated with the risk of several chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes”, explains lead author Dr Haydée WT Jordão, from the Centre of Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast, in a media release. “However, there is inconsistent evidence on the association between poor oral health and specific types of gastrointestinal cancers, which is what our research aimed to examine.”
Of all the participants, 4,069 ended up developing gastrointestinal cancer over the course of the six-year followup period. Among that group, 13% had originally reported poor oral health and hygiene habits. For what it’s worth, the study also found that people with poor oral health were more likely to be young, female, living in poorer neighborhoods, and consuming less than two servings of fruit and vegetables each day.
While the exact biological reasons why poor oral health appears to promote liver cancer are still very much unclear, the study’s authors theorize that the oral and gut microbiome play a role in cancer development.
“The liver contributes to the elimination of bacteria from the human body”, explains Dr. Haydée WT Jordão. “When the liver is affected by diseases, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis or cancer, its function will decline and bacteria will survive for longer and therefore have the potential to cause more harm. One bacteria, Fusobacterium nucleatum, originates in the oral cavity but its role in liver cancer is unclear. Further studies investigating the microbiome and liver cancer are therefore warranted.”
Another hypothesis states that those with poor oral health end up losing their teeth much earlier in life, and subsequently must make unhealthy changes in their diet, ultimately resulting in a higher chance of developing liver cancer.
The study is published in the United European Gastroenterology Journal.