Recent studies have investigated the association between periodontal disease, tooth loss, and several systemic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and preterm birth. Periodontal disease, a chronic inflammatory condition, is highly prevalent in adult populations around the world, and may be preventable. Estimates of prevalence vary between races and geographic regions, with a marked increase in the occurrence of periodontal disease with advancing age. Worldwide estimates for the prevalence of severe periodontal disease generally range from 10 to 15%. The relationship between oral health and cancer has been examined for a number of specific cancer sites. Several studies have reported associations between periodontal disease or tooth loss and risk of oral, upper gastrointestinal, lung, and pancreatic cancer in different populations. In a number of studies, these associations persisted after adjustment for major risk factors, including cigarette smoking and socioeconomic status. This review provides a summary of these findings, discusses possible biological mechanisms involved, and raises methodological issues related to studying these relationships.