The gnarly plaque lurking on your gums and teeth may increase your chances of dying from cancer, new research suggests.

Many studies have linked oral health to chronic illnesses such as heart disease. This latest research, however, suggests that people who have more plaque on their teeth and gums are more likely to die prematurely from cancer.

The findings, which appear in the June 11 edition of BMJ Open, show only an association between plaque and a raised risk of early cancer death, and not a cause-and-effect relationship.

In the new study, nearly 1,400 Swedish adults were followed for 24 years. People with high amounts of dental plaque were 79 percent more likely to die prematurely, the study showed. That said, the absolute risk of any person with dental plaque dying early of cancer was low.

"Bacteria in the gums may trigger local inflammation, and these bacteria and inflammatory markers don't just stay where they are," said Dr. Joel Epstein, director of oral medicine at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif. "They are measurable in the blood, so it becomes systemic and widely distributed."

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