Lots of Cavities? No Cancer

When was the last time you were grateful for your cavities?  You might want to start thanking them.

People with a lot of cavities are less likely to get head and neck cancer, according to medicaldaily.com.

Cavities are often a sign of poor oral hygiene, and tooth decay is "an incredibly common disorder, affecting 60 to 90 percent of children and 100 percent of adults, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)," Lizette Borreli reports.

While cavities usually aren't a big deal -- "drill and fill," as dentists refer to them -- they can also be a sign of other problems, from gum disease to diabetes, heart disease, and stroke,  according to the CDC.

But it turns out poor oral healh may have a silver lining.  Recent findings have shown that "adults who have a lot of cavities are a third less likely to develop head and neck cancer than those without cavities," writes Borreli.

"This was an unexpected finding since dental cavities have been considered a sign of poor oral health along with periodontal disease, and we had previously observed an increased risk of head and neck cancers among subjects with periodontal disease," said Dr. Mine Tezal, lead researcher and assistant professor at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, HealthDay reports.

But don't stop brushing tomorrow morning; poor oral health leads to lots of other problems, like tooth loss, gum decay, even cancer.  "If caries [are] associated with reduced cancer risk—seems very unlikely—the dental damage, and infection risk of dental disease carries its own risk,” said Dr. Joel Epstein, a consultant with the division of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at the City of Hope, in Duarte, Calif. who was not involved with the study, to HealthDay. Caries are the medical term for cavities.

So why are cavities the key to less cancer? Simple, or at least somewhat. People who have good oral health tend to use antibacterial products, and too much of these products can interfere with the body's own bacterial balance, scientists are finding, Borreli points out.  A normal balance in these bacteria may reduce the risk of head and neck cancers in adults.
Head and neck cancer is not one of the more common cancers -- only about five to 10 percent of all cancers, according to Borreli.  The cancer is more common in people over age 50 and three times more common in men than in women, according to the Cleveland Clinic. She notes that head and neck cancer is curable if detected early and can even be prevented through simple lifestyle changes.


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