What if I told you there was one thing you could do every day for just two minutes to cut your risk of getting one of the deadliest cancers?
Would you make it a New Year's resolution to try? Keep in mind, about 80% of all resolutions fail by February. But this is far easier than taking the time to go to the gym, start a new diet, or save more money (though we recommend taking care of all these things).
It's the simple action of flossing your teeth.
I know what you're thinking... flossing is terrible. If you've ever lied about flossing to your dentist, you aren't alone. Only about 30% of Americans say they floss regularly (though we suspect the number is lower).
But flossing is vital to our overall health. More and more we're seeing studies linking gum disease to heart disease and now to cancer.
Flossing removes the plaque buildup in your gums that brushing can't reach. You should make a C shape on each side of your tooth to scrape away all that bacteria. Some types of bad bacteria actually pry open spaces in our gums and get into our bloodstream. Some even travel along our nerves, causing jaw pain.
We've seen in a few studies that gum disease accelerates mental decline in Alzheimer's patients. And one type of bacteria, P. gingivalis, has been associated with pancreatic cancer.
Now a new study adds to this growing pile of evidence. Researchers from New York University School of Medicine looked at types of bad bacteria associated with two kinds of esophageal cancer. Your esophagus connects your throat with your stomach. You might know it as the tube where you experience heartburn.
They found two types in particular raised the risk of developing esophageal cancer. The researchers do state that this isn't cause-and-effect, so they can't point to these bacteria as the driving force for cancer.
But this study is important for understanding one of the deadliest cancers out there. It's the sixth deadliest cancer worldwide, after other cancers of the pancreas, lung, and liver. Its five-year survival rate is just 18%.
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As explained by the research team's leader, Dr. Jiyoung Ahn: "Esophageal cancer is a highly fatal cancer, and there is an urgent need for new avenues of prevention, risk stratification, and early detection."
This is why we're concerned about studies like this: We know that bacteria trigger inflammation. When that turns chronic, it damages our bodies. Worse, that damage leads to a host of diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Knowing about the link between bacteria, inflammation, and the onset of disease, we think taking care of your oral health is critical.
It's even more important to floss as we age. That's because gums recede naturally over time, leaving us more vulnerable to gum disease.
Flossing is a cheap way to ward off a lifetime of infection, inflammation, and devastating diseases. Our local drugstores here in Baltimore carry single packs of floss for just $2 to $3. It's a small price to pay for a major investment in your health.
If arthritis keeps you from flossing, try brushes that specifically reach into the gum or floss picks. (My researcher uses these.)
And remember, after flossing, don't turn to the alcohol-based rinses. Several studies show that the alcohol in mouthwash increases the risk of oral cancers. The proof isn't absolute, but the link is strong. The alcohol used in the mouthwash breaks down into a known carcinogen, acetaldehyde.
Try a nonalcoholic mouthwash. Just check the label for alcohol. Many brands advertise that the mouthwash is alcohol-free on the front label. And do what I do... Alternate between nonalcoholic and regular mouthwash, 50% diluted with water and hydrogen peroxide (1.5%)... in conjunction with a good brushing and flossing.
Make your New Year's commitment to keep your gums healthy. Your heart and your esophagus will thank you for it.
What We're Reading...
- A review of that new study.
- In case you missed it, our original write-up on flossing.
- More on the Alzheimer's link.
- Something different: An answer to one of Australia's oldest naval mysteries.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 2, 2018