4 Things You Need To Know About Leukemia And Gum Disease

Posted on: 24 June 2015


Leukemia is a type of bone marrow cancer. People with leukemia have high numbers of white blood cells in their bodies, but these cells are abnormal and not fully developed. This suppresses the function of your immune system, which means that you may get sick more frequently. While coughs and colds are no surprise, leukemia can also increase your risk of a more surprising medical problem: gum disease. Here are four things you need to know about leukemia and gum disease.

How does gum disease form?

You probably already know that poor oral hygiene is a bad thing, but it can cause a lot more than just cavities. Not brushing your teeth thoroughly enough or forgetting to floss lets plaque remain on your teeth. Plaque is a sticky film that's left behind after you eat. If plaque isn't removed, it hardens and turns into calculus. Calculus contains a lot of bacteria, and worse, you can't remove it with your toothbrush and floss. Calculus will stay put until your dentist scrapes it off at your next cleaning, but until then, the bacteria will irritate your gum tissue. This irritation is the start of gum disease.

What does leukemia have to do with gum disease?

Poor oral hygiene is the main cause of gum disease, but it's not the only factor involved. There are lots of other factors that can put you at an increased risk of gum disease, including medical conditions that suppress your immune response, like leukemia. Leukemia makes your immune system be less able to defend your body against invading bacteria, which in turn can increase your risk of developing infections like gum disease. The immunosuppression associated with leukemia can also make infections more severe or longer lasting. This is why people with leukemia may be more likely to develop gum disease.

What are the signs of this problem?

Gum disease can lead to a lot of different changes in your gums. You may notice problems like:

  • Red, swollen gums;
  • Bleeding when you brush or floss your teeth;
  • Bad breath;
  • A bad taste in your mouth;
  • Receding gums;
  • Pus between your teeth or along your gum line. 

These symptoms are cause for concern. If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to see your dentist right away for diagnosis and treatment. Gum disease can sometimes be the first sign of leukemia, so if you have gum disease and also feel generally unwell, your dentist may refer you to your family doctor or to an oncologist.

How do dentists treat gum disease?

Your dentist will treat your gum disease by thoroughly cleaning your teeth and gums. Plaque, calculus, and bacteria will be removed from your gums, which will give your gum tissue a chance to heal itself. If this cleaning isn't enough, you may also need to get a deep cleaning performed. This deep cleaning is called scaling and root planing, and it involves cleaning plaque and tartar from below the gum line. The roots of your teeth will also be smoothed to remove bacteria.

If thoroughly cleaning your teeth isn't enough to heal your gum disease, your dentist may recommend surgical treatments. If this is required, your dentist may need to cut into your gums to clean the area behind them, and your gums may be tightened against your teeth to keep bacteria from getting underneath them. 

Leukemia can have a major effect on your immune system, and this has effects throughout your body. If you notice that your gums are red, swollen, or bleeding, you may have gum disease and should see your dentist as soon as possible. For more information, check out companies like The Center For Progressive Dentistry.