Oral Health May be Linked to Oral Cancers

Oral HPV infections higher in men who had poor oral health

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Cancers that show up in the mouth, tongue, throat and voice box have been increasing. A viral infection is behind some of this trend. Now, scientists have a better understanding of what may contribute to these infections.

A recent study discovered that poor oral health, which includes gum disease and tooth loss, may aid in the development of oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

HPV infection causes anywhere between 40 to 80 percent of oropharynx (middle of the throat from tonsils to tip of voicebox) cancers.

"Get a thorough dental cleaning every six months."

Thanh Cong Bui, DrPH, a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Public Health at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston, conducted this study along with Christine Markham, PhD, and colleagues.

The study aimed to examine the relationship between oral HPV infection and oral health, and to assess the effects of oral health, smoking and oral sex on oral HPV infection.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and identified 3,439 participants between the ages of 30 and 69 for whom oral health information was available.

Investigators defined oral health using four measures: how the individuals rated their own overall oral health, presence of gum disease, use of mouthwash for dental problems within seven days of completing the survey and number of teeth lost.

The researchers also examined data regarding the participants' age, gender, marital status, cigarette smoking, marijuana use, oral sex habits and number of sexual partners, among other risk factors for HPV infection.

The study uncovered that those who reported poor oral health had a 56 percent higher prevalence of oral HPV infection than those who did not rate their oral health as poor.

Compared to those who had good oral health, those with gum disease had a 51 percent higher prevalence of oral HPV infection, while those who had dental problems had a 28 percent higher occurrence of oral HPV infection.

Higher infection rates were also seen in people with all four oral health measures.

Not all HPV infections lead to cancer. There are low-risk types of the virus that can cause non-cancerous lesions in the mouth and high-risk HPV strains such as HPV16 that cause cancer.

Oral HPV infections were more prevalent in older men aged 50 to 69 than in younger men between the ages of 30 and 49, according to this study.

“Overall, this study indicates that poor oral health is an independent risk factor for oral HPV infection, irrespective of smoking status and oral sex behavior,” the authors concluded.

“Based on this publication and the existing published literature, it appears that as men age (up until a certain age), oral health declines, leaving men at increased risk of oral HPV infection after exposure to the virus,” Anna R. Giuliano, PhD, Director of the Center for Infection Research in Cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, told dailyRx News.

“However, it is unclear whether poor oral health increases the rate of acquiring new oral infections,” she continued, “and/or if poor oral health increases the duration of an oral infection in men. More research is needed to better understand where in the natural history of oral HPV infection poor oral health is important,” Dr. Giuliano said.

This study was published August 21 in Cancer Prevention Research, a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The research was supported by a UT Health Innovation for Cancer Prevention Research postdoctoral fellowship. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
August 20, 2013
Last Updated:
August 29, 2013