Bad Dental Hygiene, Too, Now Linked to Oral Cancer

Here's another reason to take care of your teeth.  Oral cancer.

Studies are now showing that something as simple as swollen gums, gum disease and missing teeth can open the door to the human papillomavirus (HPV) that's been shown to cause oral cancer.

HPV, a sexually transmitted virus, causes cancers of the cervix, mouth and throat, according to Catherine Saint Louis at

She writes that people with common dental infections are more at risk of developing HPV.  But some experts say it is too early "to say with confidence that brushing and flossing regularly can prevent oral HPV infection," Saint Louis notes, or that bad dental health and HPV are even definitively related.

Still, “Poor oral health is a new independent risk factor for oral HPV infection and, to our knowledge, this is the first study to examine this association,” quotes Thanh Cong Bui, Dr.P.H., postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Public Health at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston. “The good news is, this risk factor is modifiable — by maintaining good oral hygiene and good oral health, one can prevent HPV infection and subsequent HPV-related cancers.”

The study found that those who reported poor dental health showed a 56% greater chance of developing HPV. Those with gum disease and dental problems "had a 51 percent and 28 percent higher prevalence of oral HPV infection, respectively. In addition, the researchers "were able to associate oral HPV infections with number of teeth lost," reports.

After controlling for smoking and the number of oral sex partners, another risk factor, the new study found that "self-rated poor oral health was an independent risk for oral HPV infection," Saint Louis points out.

Throat cancer caused by HPV is increasing, particularly along middle-aged white men, she notes. 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,” Christine Markham, the second author on the paper and an associate professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, tells Saint Louis. “We don’t have sufficiently strong evidence to demonstrate that conclusively in the study, but that’s our thinking.”

Particularly if you are male, smoke cigarettes, use marijuana, and participate in oral sex, you're far more likely to develop oral HPV infection, according to Researchers also found that self-rated overall oral health was an independent risk factor for oral HPV infection, because this association "did not change regardless of whether or not the participants smoked or had multiple oral sex partners."

Because HPV needs wounds in the mouth to enter and infect the oral cavity, poor oral health, which may include ulcers, mucosal disruption, or chronic inflammation, may create an entry portal for HPV, Bui tells "There is, however, currently not enough evidence to support this, and further research is needed to understand this relationship."

So what should you do?  Make sure you brush and floss twice a day, and see the dentist at least once a year.


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