Gum Disease tied to Oral Cancer
A new study links gum disease and other dental ailments to an increased risk of oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Participants stating poor oral health showed a 56% higher rate of HPV infection than those stating good to excellent oral health. This information was published today with the Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. “This is just another really good reason to take good care of your teeth and your mouth,” said Markham, an associate professor at the University of Texas. “Our findings show that even when you control for known risk factors for oral HPV infections such as smoking and oral sex behaviors, poor oral health is an independent risk factor for oral HPV infection.”
Study Ties Poor Oral Hygiene To Cancer-Causing Virus
Research shows that people with swollen gums, missing teeth, and poor dental health are more likely to be infected orally with HPV. HPV, a sexually transmitted virus, causes cancers of the cervix, mouth and 40 to 80% of all throat cancers. The new study is the first to document a link between the infection and poor oral health. However, other experts noted that the research found only an association and relied mostly on self-reported data about oral health. Therefore, it is too early to say that brushing and flossing regularly prevent oral HPV infection, they said.
Aimée Kreimer, an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute says this finding is a “modest association”. Therefore, “We don’t know if poor oral health causes HPV infection and would go on to cancer,” she said.
This finding suggests another potential downside to deficient hygiene. Dr. Silverman, spokesman for the American Dental Association and Professor of Oral Medicine says this is “because of a possible association between poor to fair oral health and the presence of the HPV.”
Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston reviewed data on high-risk and low-risk oral HPV infection and oral health in 3,439 adults, ages 30 to 69, participating in the 2009-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The study finds that being male, smoking cigarettes, and having multiple oral sex partners increases the likelihood of infection. These findings align with studies similar to those in an earlier analysis of NHANES data. After controlling for smoking and the number of oral sex partners, the study finds that poor oral health is an independent risk for infection.
The odds of having an oral HPV infection were 55 percent higher among those reporting poor to fair oral health.
Throat cancer caused by HPV is increasing among middle-aged white men. In the United States, we estimate roughly 25,000 diagnosed cases a year. Many experts believe oral infection with the virus has increased along with the frequency of oral sex.
“What we think might be happening is if you have poor oral health — ulcers, gum inflammation, sores or lesions, any openings in the mouth — that might provide entry for HPV,” said Christine Markham. Christine is an author of the paper and an associate professor at UTHSC at Houston.
“We don’t have sufficiently strong evidence to demonstrate that conclusively in the study, but that’s our thinking.”