For most of us, the importance of brushing our teeth twice daily is drummed into us at a young age. For good reason, too—a yellow, stained smile is never a cute look and dental fillings are expensive. But according to new research, there’s another crucial reason you should be practising good dental hygiene—it may reduce your cancer risk.
The study shows that there is a link between oral germs and certain types of cancer. It’s believed that the bacteria travels into the bloodstream and enters different organs, where they infect the tissue. So far, studies have revealed links between certain types of mouth bacteria and breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, oesophageal cancer and bowel cancer.
Scientists believe that through further research, they will one day be able to determine someone’s cancer risk purely from their oral bacteria. In the meantime, there’s still a lot you can learn about your health from what’s going on in your mouth. Here are some things to look out for:
1. Stained teeth
Most teeth stains are superficial, caused by your daily coffee or red wine habit. Nothing a good clean at the dentist won’t fix! But if you have white, yellow or brown spots and grooves or pitting on the surface of your teeth, it could be a sign of undiagnosed coeliac disease. Research shows that around 90% of people with coeliac disease have problems like with their tooth enamel, probably due to the malabsorption of nutrients.
2. Bad breath
If you have consistently smelly breath and you haven’t been eating garlic bread, it may be cause for further concern. While breath odour can be caused by bacteria build-up from poor brushing, it can also be a sign of respiratory disease, uncontrolled diabetes, gastric reflux or liver failure. See your GP to rule out anything serious.
3. Mouth sores
Sores inside the mouth or on the lips can mean a few different things, depending on what type they are. If they’re crater-like, they’re probably ulcers—which can be caused by stress, hormones or nutritional deficiencies like iron, folic acid or vitamin B-12. However, if they’re fluid-filled, they’re most likely cold sores caused by the herpes virus. If it doesn’t begin to heal after 2 weeks or turns red, white or swollen it could be a sign of autoimmune disease.
4. A white coating on your tongue
If you have a white coating on your tongue, don’t stress—that’s normal. You can use a toothbrush or tongue scraper to gently remove it if it bothers you. But if it’s a thick, white plaque it could be a sign of a bacteria overgrowth aka thrush. If it has a blueish tinge it may be because you’ve bitten your tongue, but it’s worth mentioning it to your doctor as it can also be a sign of oral cancer.