You're probably due for a dentist appointment.
Dentist visits are tricky to maintain, but doing so can be one of the most important things you do for your health. Some people don't go to the dentist unless they feel like something's wrong with their teeth, but visiting every six months isn't just something your dentist tells you for fun; it's a rule you should try to live by. Poor oral health has long been linked to heart disease and diabetes, but new research shows there's also a possible connection between your oral health and a risk for cancer, more specifically, liver cancer.
The 2019 study, conducted by Queens University Belfast, specifically aimed to look at non-heart related diseases and conditions, since for so long that's been the main focus of oral health research. Researchers studied more than 469,000 people over six years and looked for self-reported oral health issues, including mouth ulcers, loose teeth, and/or bleeding gums. Then, after the six-year mark check up point, researchers looked for the presence of certain gastrointestinal-related cancers, including liver, rectum, colon, and pancreatic cancer.
What they found somewhat had to do with environmental factors outside of just oral health alone. Out of the 469,628 participants in the study, it was reported that 4,069 people developed gastrointestinal cancer. Out of the 4,069 number, 13 percent of those patients reported oral health issues as well, but this was not statistically significant. When researchers conducted a site-specific analysis though, there was a 75 percent increased risk of specifically hepatocellular cancer (the most common form of liver cancer). Researchers point out that the participants who suffered from oral health issues were more often younger women who consumed less than two pieces of fruits and veggies per day and lived in areas of poor socioeconomic class, where fruits and veggies were less readily available in the first place.
Though this doesn't provide an end-all conclusion about the link between oral health and liver cancer, it certainly points out an area of concern for health professionals. One theory researchers had on the connection was the role that the liver plays in eliminating bacteria in the human body, and how bacteria growth in the mouth can cause the liver to work overtime. Dr. Haydée WT Jordão, lead author on the study and researcher at the Centre of Public Health at Queen's University Belfast told Eurkealert.com, “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."
The interest to conduct further studies on liver cancer comes from the fact that it’s the sixth leading cancer that causes the most deaths in the European Union, and claims the lives of over 60,000 people each year. In the United States, those numbers are lower, as liver cancer kills around 32,000 Americans each year, according to Cancer.net.
This study is just the beginning of delving deeper into the connection between oral health and liver cancer, but it provides a new reason to take your oral health more seriously. In the U.S., a routine dental cleaning without insurance can cost between $80 to $175, which is definitely a barrier a lot of people face in getting the care they need. Cheaper dental plans that aren’t provided by an employer can range from $9 to $15 per month, and can help prevent larger oral health problems in the future. If you still can't get on a dental health insurance plan, look for a public dental clinic in your area or look up your local dental school. Most dental schools offer reduced rates to get your problem taken care of by a student.