Mouth Irritants May Promote Oral Cancer

Cancer on the edge of the tongue was common, possibly due to irritation from sharp teeth or dentures, a new study found

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Alcohol and smoking are known risk factors for cancer of the mouth. Now, new research suggests that mouth irritants like dentures or sharp teeth may share some of the blame.

The authors of a recent study found that nonsmokers had a higher rate of cancer on the edge of the tongue — where dentures or teeth can irritate the tongue — than smokers. Smokers were more likely to have cancer in other areas in the mouth, such as on the cheek.

The researchers urged people whose mouths are irritated by teeth or dental appliances to see their dentists. They also recommended early treatment of mouth lesions to prevent further spread of cancer.

Christopher F.L. Perry, MBBS, of Watkins Medical Centre in Queensland, Australia, wrote this study with colleagues.

The authors reviewed the medical records of more than 724 patients who were treated for cancer of the mouth or mouth area in a 10-year period. They hoped to learn whether irritation of the mouth could cause cancer, as some past small studies had suggested.

They asked the patients about their age when they were found to have cancer of the mouth, how far the cancer had spread, their history of smoking and details of their alcohol intake.

The authors studied two types of mouth cancers: oropharyngeal, which is cancer of the middle part of the throat behind the mouth, or cancer of the mouth itself.

Perry and colleagues noted that past research had tied constant irritation in other parts of the body to cancer. They said that it would make sense that chronic irritation in the mouth might also lead to cancer of the mouth.

Among the patients in the study, mouth cancer was most often diagnosed when patients were in their early 60s.

Men were much more likely than women to have cancer in either area of the oral cavity. In this study, 204 women and 520 men had cancer of the oral cavity. Women who had cancer of the oral cavity were twice as likely to have it in the mouth itself than they were to have it in the middle part of the throat.

Also, nonsmokers were six times more likely than smokers to have cancer on the edge of the tongue — where dentures or teeth can irritate the tongue.

The authors said gum wounds and tumors on the floor of the mouth often occurred in older patients, possibly from chronic denture rubbing.

While the study authors did not conclusively find that irritation of the mouth caused by dentures or sharp teeth led to cancer, they suggested that soreness from a long period of rubbing could be a factor in cancer cell growth.

This study appeared in the Nov. 6 issue of JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery.

The authors did not disclose any funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 6, 2014
Last Updated:
November 7, 2014