Poor dental health is linked to…. Breast Cancer?

Dr. Jennifer Wheeler, ND

In 2011 a provocative new study from Sweden was released that made headlines. The study followed over 3000 women from 1985 to 2001, examining for rates of breast cancer, periodontal disease and missing molars. They found a higher rate of breast cancer in those with periodontal disease and even higher rates in those women with missing molars! While the exact link is not yet known, there are a few suspected causes.

Periodontal disease is a condition where chronic gum inflammation causes receding gums, which can lead to loss of teeth. We know that this condition causes chronic inflammation due to toxins produced by the bacteria living in inflamed gums or in infected teeth. A 2010 study in China found that chronic periodontal disease led to genetic changes to the DNA responsible for E-cardherin and COX-2, which are inflammatory compounds that the body makes in response to tissue damage. What is interesting is that these compounds are similarly altered and elevated in breast cancer. Breast cancer is even always tested for its sensitivity to e-cardherin receptors, in what is known as her2 status.

Deficiency in Vitamin D is another suspected link between these two diseases. Both diseases are found in higher rates in those who lack enough of this sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is an important immune system balancer that has the ability to help turn protective genes on and inflammatory genes off. It also helps us better fight off infections, including those in the gums and teeth.

The number of mercury fillings a woman has over the course of her life may also influence the development and progression of breast cancer. Mercury is a heavy metal that is capable of causing damage to cellular DNA and nerve cells. But more importantly, in regards to breast cancer, it can bind to estrogen receptors on cells in the breast tissue and trigger estrogen effects. Such a metal is known as a metalloestrogen, a type of xenoestrogen. The mercury contained in fillings can slowly leach out over time or be released suddenly when a filling cracks or is removed improperly. Mercury is stored in fatty tissue, including our fat cells and nerve cells, and is only slowly metabolized, so even if exposure is low or a long time ago, it may still be acting in the body.

The connections between different systems in our body shows how taking a whole body approach to your health is so important. Even the ancient practitioners of Chinese medicine observed the connections between our teeth and our breasts, observing that the stomach acupuncture meridian passes along our jaw, our throat and then directly over the breast. It is exciting that the linking of these areas of the body is now being shown by modern medicine. Taking care of your teeth is important in ways that we may not even yet realize!