While it may be easy to shrug off the responsibilities required to maintain good oral health (flossing, ugh), you might want to listen to your dentist: According to two new studies, taking care of your teeth can actually play a role in reducing your risk of developing cancer.
A recent study out of the University of Helsinki in Finland found that the same bacteria that causes the gum infection periodontitis could also play a role in the emergence of pancreatic cancer. In addition, another recent study from Tufts University found severe gum disease is associated with a 24 percent increase in the risk of lung cancer and colorectal cancer.
In the studies dealing with periodontitis in particular, researchers found health issues can present themselves simply due to the fact that bacteria travels. In a press release, Timo Sorsa, a professor at the University of Helsinki, said harmful bacteria can spread in the body, not only causing damage to the gums where it first surfaces during inflammation related to periodontitis, but also where else it ends up. The bacterial CTLP enzyme associated with periodontis, according to one study, “has the ability to activate the enzymes that cancer cells use to invade healthy tissue. At the same time, CTLP also diminished the effectiveness of the immune system,” the release reports.
Further research is needed on the connections between oral health and cancer, but in the meantime, there’s little reason not to take extra good care of your teeth. Brush ’em, floss, use mouthwash, and visit your dentist regularly. Sure, it might add a few extra minutes to your bedtime and morning routine—but it sure beats dealing with potentially life-threatening issues down the road. So the next time you’re too tired at night or would rather hit snooze in the morning, you might just want to keep this in mind.