Gum disease affects half of all Americans over 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You know you have it if your gums are often red and swollen, or bleed when you floss. It's considered an inflammatory disease, caused by the body's natural reaction to the presence of harmful bacteria.
Periodontal disease, as dentists refer to it, has been linked to several other diseases, including pancreatic and lung cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Now a new study is linking it to breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
After looking at the data of nearly 74,000 women over a 7-year span, researchers from the State University of New York at Buffalo found that women with periodontal disease had a 14 percent higher risk of breast cancer than women with healthy gums. If the women smoked--or had quit in the past 20 years--the breast cancer risk was 36 percent higher. If they'd quit more than 20 years before, their risk dropped down to 6 percent.
The reason smokers have unhealthier gums (and mouths) is that the habit lowers the immune system, allowing bacteria to do more dirty work. Plus, it's harder for gums to heal.
To keep gums healthy, brush your teeth twice a day and floss. And see your dentist for regular checkups. If you already have gum disease and have gone through menopause, ask your dentist about special mouthwashes or deeper cleanings that can rid your mouth of plaque below the gum line. And by all means, quit now if you smoke.
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