Gum disease and other dental ailments boost the risk of becoming infected with oral human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus that causes 40 to 80 percent of all throat cancers, according to the first study to find such a link. Those who said they had poor oral health had a 56 percent higher rate of oral HPV infection than those who reported good to excellent oral health, researchers wrote in a study published today by 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 of health promotion and behavioral science at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston, in an Aug. 19 telephone interview. “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
People with swollen gums, missing teeth and other signs of poor dental health are more likely to be infected orally with the human papillomavirus, researchers reported Wednesday.
HPV, a sexually transmitted virus, causes cancers of the cervix, mouth and throat. The new study, published in Cancer Prevention Research, is the first to document a link between the infection and poor oral health, but other experts noted that the research found only an association and relied mostly on self-reported data about oral health.
It is too early to say with confidence that brushing and flossing regularly could prevent oral HPV infection, they said.
The finding is a “modest association,” said Aimée Kreimer, an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute who was not involved in the study. “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 “because of a possible association between poor to fair oral health and the presence of the human papillomavirus, which in itself is identified with several diseases,” said Dr. Sol Silverman, a professor of oral medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and a spokesman for the American Dental Association.
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, known as NHANES.
The study found that being male, smoking cigarettes and having multiple oral sex partners increased the likelihood of oral HPV infection, findings similar to those in an earlier analysis of NHANES data.
But after controlling for smoking and the number of oral sex partners, the new study found that self-rated poor oral health was an independent risk for oral HPV 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, particularly along middle-aged white men. About 25,000 cases a year are diagnosed in the United States. 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, an author of the paper and an associate professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at UTHSC at Houston.
“We don’t have sufficiently strong evidence to demonstrate that conclusively in the study, but that’s our thinking.”