Pancreatic Cancer and its Link to Mouth Bacteria

At our Jacksonville practice we believe dentistry is a vital part of whole body wellness. Keeping the teeth and gums healthy is an essential part of a wellness plan that keeps your body functioning at its highest level. Over the years many studies have been conducted that suggest that keeping your teeth and gums healthy affects parts of your body far away from your mouth. Most recently a definitive link between mouth bacteria and pancreatic cancer has been published. These new findings give us just one more reason to smile and are another helpful reminder of the importance of performing a daily oral health routine.

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed in around 53,000 Americans every year. Current estimates find that this disease will claim the lives of around 41,000 people in 2016. This type of cancer is very difficult to detect because it often begins with no symptoms. There is also no routine screening available for doctors to provide for their patients. This makes pancreatic cancer very difficult to diagnose when it is most treatable.

The pancreas is in the abdomen and is responsible for excreting enzymes that help our bodies digest food. It also creates hormones, like insulin, that help regulate blood sugar. And, certain people have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Risk factors include

  • Tobacco usage
  • Obesity
  • Exposure to industrial chemicals
  • A family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Race
  • Age

Understanding these risk factors can certainly help doctors understand which of their patients are at risk. But due to this new study, screening oral bacteria may help doctors detect this cancer in their patients much sooner.

The Study

Researchers at the NYU Langone Medical Center have finally, definitively linked changes in the oral microbiome to  pancreatic cancer. Researchers evaluated and compared bacteria samples from the mouths from a total of 732 American men and women over a ten-year period. Three hundred and sixty-one of those subjects later developed pancreatic cancer, the remaining 371 did not. Comparing the two, the researchers gained some incredible knowledge about pancreatic cancer and the oral microbiome. Specifically they found that two types of mouth bacteria present in the study participants’ oral microbiome put them at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer risk was increased by more than 50 percent for patients whose oral microbiome contained Porphyromonas gingivalis and Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans. Both of these bacteria are most closely associated with periodontal disease. To ensure these findings were not coincidental or a result of reverse causation, the researchers threw out  cases in which pancreatic cancer was diagnosed within two years of the study beginning.

This study is the first of its kind to evaluate and suggest that the presence of mouth bacteria may play a role in the development of pancreatic cancer.

The Future

This study found that changes in the oral microbiome can be an indicator for pancreatic cancer risk. This knowledge has the potential to create a screening and save thousands of lives every year through early detection. Helping doctors understand that some patients who have periodontal disease could be at a higher risk, could help them screen and treat this disease earlier than it has ever been before.

The Periodontal Disease Connection

The very same harmful bacteria examined in this pancreatic cancer study live in the oral microbiome are the known cause of periodontal disease. Every day we educate our patients on the importance of keeping up with a daily oral health routine to rid the mouth of these bacteria before they go to bed and when they wake up. Periodontal disease is extremely prevalent in our society and is entirely preventable by brushing and flossing twice each day, and making twice-yearly appointments to your Jacksonville dentist. By removing plaque and bacteria with these practices and chewing xylitol-based gum after meals you can prevent gum disease quite easily.

If you have any questions on how you can prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in your oral microbiome, don’t hesitate to ask Dr. Shields today. It would be our pleasure to help you remain healthy and stop periodontal disease before it causes serious, chronic complications in your life.


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Smiles by Shields
3940 San Jose Park Dr.
Jacksonville, FL 32217