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Poor Oral Hygiene Tied to Cancer-Linked Virus

Avoiding HPV is yet another reason to take care of your teeth, gums, experts say
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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.

The study is hampered by some limitations, said Dr. Amy Chen, a professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery at Emory University in Atlanta.

The findings come from a large federal health survey that included more than 10,500 Americans. But Markham's team had to exclude two-thirds of them from the analysis because the participants lacked key information -- such as an HPV test result.

Paring down the group like that is problematic because it can bias the results, Chen said.

The "take-away," she said, is that people should be aware of the already-known link between oral health and cancers of the mouth and throat.

Anna Giuliano, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., agreed that the study leaves questions -- including whether people with poor oral health have a higher risk of a long-lasting HPV infection, which is the real concern.

If unhealthy gums and teeth do raise the odds of oral HPV infection, it's not certain how. But Markham said it's possible that diseased gums offer an "entry portal" for the virus.

Fewer than 12,000 cases of oropharyngeal cancer occur among Americans each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it's thought that HPV causes nearly three-quarters of them. So preventing the infection is key to preventing the cancer.

There are two vaccines available against the most common cancer-linked strains of HPV (Gardasil and Cervarix). Experts advise vaccination for girls, boys and young adults.

Of course, that would not be of help to most of the people in this study, the majority of whom were aged 30 or older, said Dr. Dennis Kraus, director of the Center for Head and Neck Oncology at North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute in Lake Success, N.Y.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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