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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
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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.

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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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