Oral hygiene can reduce risk of some cancers

Close up young smiling woman applying whitening paste on toothbrush, doing toothcare procedures at home, taking care of gums health, preventing caries, healthy daily habit concept.

April 18, 2024—A healthy mouth microbiome can help prevent a number of diseases, including cancer, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Mingyang Song.

Song, associate professor of clinical epidemiology and nutrition, was among the experts quoted in an April 4 Everyday Health article about the connections between mouth, gum, and tooth health and overall health. “Alterations in the oral microbiome can cause systemic inflammation and increase disease risk indirectly,” Song explained. Microbes in the mouth can also travel to other parts of the body and directly increase the risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and various cancers, he added.

Previous studies co-authored by Song have shed light on the oral microbiome’s impacts on the risk of stomach and colorectal cancers. One study found that people with a history of gum disease have a 52% greater chance of developing stomach cancer compared with those without gum disease, and that losing two or more teeth raised stomach cancer risk by 33%. Another study found that people with gum disease had a 17% greater chance than those without gum disease of developing a serrated polyp—a type of polyp that can lead to colon cancer. The study also found that people who had lost at least four teeth had a 20% higher risk of a serrated polyp.

The takeaway, Song said, is to keep the mouth microbiome healthy. This can be accomplished through practicing oral hygiene—visiting the dentist regularly and brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash daily—as well as maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle through diet, exercise, and avoiding smoking.

Read the article in Everyday Health: The Health of Your Mouth May Affect Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer

Maya Brownstein

Image: iStock/fizkes