Sleep Apnea Could Raise Cancer Risk

A serious sleep disorder, sleep apnea affects an estimated 22 million Americans, many of whom don’t even realize they have it. What’s more, of those with sleep apnea, nearly 80 percent have what is considered moderate to severe sleep apnea, and most of those cases are considered obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the affected person lies down and pressure on their throat causes a blockage that prevents breathing. This can cause the affected person to wake repeatedly, toss and turn, and stop and restart breathing throughout the night. Persons with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea often wake feeling tired and remain sluggish and fatigued throughout the day. But now, a recent study from the May 20 issue of the European Respiratory Journal has presented more bad news for sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea, and doctors are hoping patients pay attention.

The report, which follows a study by Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, found that women who suffer from severe obstructive sleep apnea are more likely than their male counterparts, and those without severe obstructive sleep apnea, to develop cancer.

“The study did not specify a type of cancer these patients are at an increased risk of developing,” says Dr. Allison Lesko, a dentist who treats sleep apnea in her Fort Collins, Colorado, practice. “Just that patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea are at an increased risk of developing any cancer.”

That’s because researchers theorize that low blood oxygen levels caused by the obstructive breathing may encourage the growth of certain types of cancers.
But don’t panic just yet, says Lesko. There is help.

“If you have sleep apnea, or you or a partner thinks you may have sleep apnea, you owe it to yourself to get evaluated by a dentist or doctor who specializes in sleep apnea treatment,” Lesko says.

Lesko says treatment is easier than many people realize.

“There are many different types of sleep apnea therapy,” she says. “You may have already heard of continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, therapy, which constantly ventilates air into your airways as you sleep. But there are also other options such as sleep orthotics your dentist can customize for you that reposition the jaw and essentially prop the airway open.”

According to Lesko, these treatments can help keep your oxygen levels high and hopefully reduce your risk of developing those cancers identified in the study.

“The researchers were not able to definitively say whether or not sleep apnea was responsible for the cancer, but just knowing the risk could be there will hopefully be motivation enough to seek treatment,” she says.

Epigenetics Could Someday Restore Tooth Roots

Imagine someday being able to eliminate missing teeth by restoring the roots of decayed teeth. If researchers at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at the University of Southern California have their way, that could be possible. That’s because researchers have found a formula that could regenerate those roots, using a process called epigenetic regulation.

Epigenetics is defined as the study of alterations to organisms via modification of gene expression, and epigenetics may be the key to controlling the pattern and formation of tooth rot.

Researchers discovered that tooth rot patterns are controlled by proteins called Arid1a and Ezh2. When these two proteins are in balance, and in certain configurations of tooth roots are in just the right place with the jawbone, a tooth rot pattern can be established.

Dr. Allison Lesko is a Fort Collins-based dentist. She says this type of breakthrough could make a huge difference in how we treat rotten teeth.

“Right now, if a tooth is badly decayed, there’s a chance it may need to be pulled,” Lesko says. “With this discovery, they may someday be able to restore tooth roots, which means even if a tooth is pulled we may not need to rely on dentures or dental implants to replace it.”

That’s because with regenerated roots, the researchers at USC believe they can create enough of a replacement tooth to at least cover it with a crown.

“A crown over an existing tooth is a much better option than a dental implant,” says Lesko. “While dental implants are really the Cadillac of dental prosthetics, there is always a chance of something called implant failure.”

Implant failure occurs when the screw used to anchor a dental implant to the jaw fails to implant itself into the jawbone. This can happen due to bone loss or deterioration, which can occur when too much time passes between the loss of the tooth and the attempted implantation.

“With regenerated tooth roots and a bit of naturally regrown tooth, the risk of implant failure would be obsolete,” Lesko says.

Another benefit to the study that was noted by its authors? The discovery could someday treat cancer, too.

According to the researchers at USC, some cancers can be affected by epigenetic regulators; when these regulators are out of balance, cancer can develop. The key to treating these cancers is to find a way to balance the epigenetics and stop the cancer in its tracks.

“I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about epigenetics in the near future,” says Lesko. “There are some exciting breakthroughs already, and they’re still just scratching the surface.”

Alcohol Use Could Cause Oral Health Problems

If you are a heavy drinker of alcoholic beverages, there may be more bad news in store for you. In addition to the increased risk of liver, heart and brain problems, excessive consumption of alcohol is now being linked to an increased risk of gum disease. Gum disease, or periodontitis, occurs when the gums become infected with bacteria. But it doesn’t end there, because the bacteria responsible for periodontitis can get into your bloodstream, causing everything from heart disease to stroke to many types of cancer, including liver cancer.

The discovery linking excess drinking to periodontitis was discovered by researchers at the New York University’s Langone Health. Researchers at NYU sought to discover which “lifestyle factors” changed the oral biome. They examined many behaviors, but noted that the more alcohol participants consumed, the more their oral biome changed. Those who identified as drinking heavily had less good bacteria and more bad bacteria present in their mouths than those who drank moderately, lightly and not at all.

To conduct the study, the NYU researchers used data from 1,044 participants in a nationwide cancer study. They found that the participants who drank more than the recommended one glass of alcohol per day for women and two per day for men had less Lactobacillales, a good bacteria often found in probiotic supplements, and more bad bacteria like Bacteroidales and Neisseria associated with periodontitis.

They also noted, however, that alcohol consumption is just one factor that could be responsible for the increase in these bad bacteria and the decrease in the good Lactobacillales. Many factors could be responsible for these changes, including oral care habits, income disparities and the participant’s overall diet.

Still, the evidence does seem pretty clear, and we already know that excessive alcohol consumption can be very dangerous. So what can you do to prevent periodontitis? For starters, if you are a woman who drinks more than the recommended one glass of alcohol per day or a man who drinks more than two glasses of alcohol per day, cutting back can save your health in many important ways. Another way to help stave off gum disease is to take excellent care of your teeth and gums. That means brushing twice a day for two minutes at a time, and flossing at least once a day. Don’t scrimp on the professional cleanings, either. Visit Dr. Lesko at least once a year for your annual cleaning and exam.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Lesko, please call 970-812-0355.