by Ben Renner

HELSINKI, Finland — Oral health might play an important role in preventing cancer, two recent studies suggest.

Researchers from the University of Helsinki say the bacteria Treponema denticola, which causes periodontitis, is linked to the development of certain oral cancers, as well as pancreatic and others.

In one study, the researchers found the same indicators of the bacteria in malignant tumors in the gastrointestinal tract, which is believed connected to the onset of pancreatic cancer. These indicators stem primarily from a certain enzyme associated with the bacteria.

A second study of 70,000 Finnish patients showed the enzyme has the ability to activate other enzymes that cancer cells use to invade healthy tissue. The bacterial virulence factor, enhanced by its distinct enzyme, has been found to spread from the mouth to elsewhere in the body. The study proved that periodontitis has a clear association with death by cancer.

“These studies have demonstrated for the first time that the virulence factors of the central pathogenic bacteria underlying gum disease are able to spread from the mouth to other parts of the body, most likely in conjunction with the bacteria, and take part in central mechanisms of tissue destruction related to cancer,” says Timo Sorsa, a professor at the university, in a release.

The authors say the findings highlight the importance of taking preventative steps against periodontitis. Tackling the condition in its earliest development can not only ensure not just a healthier mouth, but a healthier body too.

“In the long run, this is extremely cost-effective for society,” says Sorsa.

The first study was published Feb. 6, 2018 in the British Journal of Cancer. The second was published Jan. 11, 2018 in the International Journal of Cancer.


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