Poor Oral Hygiene Tied to Cancer-Linked Virus
Avoiding HPV is yet another reason to take care of your teeth, gums, experts say
By Amy Norton
WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- People whose teeth and gums are in poor condition may be more susceptible to an oral virus that can cause certain mouth and throat cancers, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that of more than 3,400 U.S. adults, those who rated their oral health as "poor" to "fair" were more likely to have an oral infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), which, in certain cases, can eventually lead to cancer.
Overall, 10 percent of people with tooth or gum disease tested positive for oral HPV. That compared with 6.5 percent of those who rated their dental health as "good" to "excellent."
The results, reported Aug. 21 in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, do not actually prove that diseased teeth and gums cause HPV infection.
"We don't know if poor oral health led to the HPV infection," said Christine Markham, one of the researchers on the study.
Her team tried to account for other factors that could affect dental health or the odds of having HPV -- such as smoking or multiple oral sex partners. And poor oral health was still linked to a 56 percent increase in the risk of having oral HPV.
But there could be other explanations for the connection, and more research is needed, said Markham, an associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
Still, she said, there are already plenty of reasons to take care of your teeth and gums. "Good oral health care is important for your health in general," Markham said. This study just offers some more incentive, she added.
HPV, which can cause genital and anal warts, is the most commonly transmitted sexual infection in the United States. Usually, the immune system clears the infection, but in some cases the virus persists in the body. And persistent infection with certain HPV strains can eventually lead to cancer -- with cervical cancer the best known.
HPV can also invade the mouth during oral sex. Those infections usually cause no symptoms, but a lingering infection with a cancer-linked strain can lead to oropharyngeal cancer, which affects the back of the throat, base of the tongue and tonsils.
It's a rare cancer, but cases tied to HPV are on the rise in the United States. No one knows why.
It's already known that poor oral hygiene is tied to a heightened risk of oropharyngeal cancer, even when smoking and heavy drinking -- two big risk factors for the cancer -- are taken into account.
But it has not been known whether dental health matters in the risk of oral HPV infection, Markham noted.
This study, however, does not answer that question, according to a specialist in head and neck cancers.