Flossing Your Cancer Risks Away

Head and neck cancer and HPV status explored

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) You've been told to floss at least once a day to keep your gums healthy. Keeping gum disease and inflammation out of your mouth could do more than improve your smile.

Chronic gum disease may be associated with an increased risk of oral cancer tumors that carry the human papillomavirus (HPV).

"Floss your teeth - every day."

Oral cancers have been on the rise in the US since 1973, despite the fact that tobacco use, one of the prevalent causes of oral cancer, has been declining since the mid 1960s. Similar trends are being seen around the world, and oral HPV infections are to blame.

Researchers, led by Mine Tezal, DDS, PhD, of the University at Buffalo, analyzed information about 124 people diagnosed with primary squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the mouth and throat from 1999 to 2007.

After examining tissue samples and dental records, researchers found that 40.3 percent of the tumors tested positive for HPV-16.

The scientists found that HPV-16 tumors were more likely to be associated with oropharyngeal (back of the throat) cancer than malignancies found in the mouth or throat.

Researchers also tracked the history of periodontitis (chronic gum disease) by assessing alveolar bone loss (ABL). Every increment of bone loss was associated with an increased risk of HPV tumors, with the greatest number being seen in oropharygeal squamous cell carcinoma.

"Periodontitis is easy to detect and may represent a clinical high-risk profile for oral HPV infection," the authors conclude. "Prevention or treatment of sources of inflammation in the oral cavity may be a simple yet effective way to reduce the acquisition and persistence of oral HPV infection."

This research was published June 18 in Archives of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery.

This study was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

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Review Date: 
July 13, 2012
Last Updated:
January 5, 2013