Cavities Tied to Lower Risk of Head, Neck Cancer
Bacteria involved in cavity formation may have some cancer-protective effect, researcher says, but skeptics aren't sure
Tezal said these bacteria could be a key to preventing some head and neck cancers.
"We could think of dental cavities as a collateral damage, and develop strategies to reduce their risk while preserving the beneficial effects of the lactic acid bacteria," she said.
However, Dr. Joel Epstein, a diplomat of the American Board of Oral Medicine who was not involved with the study, said its "limitations are many." Among these were the small study size and focus on current cavities only.
"Tooth loss early in life is typically related to cavities and trauma, and late due to periodontal disease, and this was not assessed in the study," said Epstein, a consultant with the division of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at the City of Hope, in Duarte, Calif.
"The authors and correlation do not prove cause and effect," he said. "Also, even if caries is associated with reduced cancer risk -- seems very unlikely -- the dental damage, and infection risk of dental disease carries its own risk."
More in-depth studies that "must be done are not done -- this is a real problem of statistical correlation," Epstein said.
Another expert agreed that the findings are preliminary, but said that if confirmed, they might lead to new ways to prevent or treat head and neck cancers.
"We see a mechanism that may protect against mouth cancer, and may be a potential strategy either as part of prevention or treatment of oral cavity cancer," said Dr. Dennis Kraus, director of the Center for Head & Neck Oncology at the New York Head & Neck Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City.
"This is a fascinating first step," Kraus said.