Dental health researchers conducted a small study in which they associated the gum disease periodontitis with an elevated risk of developing tongue cancer.

The researchers from the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in New York, and colleagues compared 51 white men with newly diagnosed tongue cancer to 54 cancer-free controls. They excluded people younger than 21, those who lacked teeth, had any previous malignancy and those with an impaired immune system.

Periodontitis is known to cause bone loss around affected teeth and each millimeter reduction in bone was associated with a 5-fold rise in the risk of tongue cancer.

Periodontitis is a chronic disease and it progresses very slowly. X-rays of the alveolar bone loss clearly indicate that the infection existed for decades and that periodontitis preceded the cancer diagnosis and not the other way around.

Researchers report that larger studies are needed to confirm the findings and to show the effects of tobacco use on the risk of periodontal disease and tongue cancer.