Poor oral health, including gum disease and dental problems, was found to be associated with oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which causes about 40 percent to 80 percent of oropharyngeal cancers, according to a study published in Cancer Prevention Research. “Poor oral health is a new independent risk factor for oral HPV infection and, to our knowledge, this is the first study to examine this association,” said Dr. Thanh Cong Bui, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas School of Public Health. “The good news is, this risk factor is modifiable – by maintaining good oral hygiene and good oral health, one can prevent HPV infection and subsequent HPV-related cancers.”
Dr. Bui, Dr. Christine Markham, associate professor of health promotion and behavioral science at the School of Public Health, and colleagues found that among the study participants, those who reported poor oral health had a 56 percent higher prevalence of oral HPV infection, and those who had gum disease and dental problems had a 51 percent and 28 percent higher prevalence of oral HPV infection, respectively. In addition, the researchers were able to associate oral HPV infections with number of teeth lost. Similar to genital HPV infection, oral HPV infection can be of two kinds: infection with low-risk HPV types that do not cause cancer, but can cause a variety of benign tumors or warts in the oral cavity, and infection with high-risk HPV types that can cause oropharyngeal cancers.
The researchers found that being male, smoking cigarettes, using marijuana, and oral sex habits increased the likelihood of oral HPV infection. They also found that self-rated overall oral health was an independent risk factor for oral HPV infection because this association did not change regardless of whether or not the participants smoked or had multiple oral sex partners.
“Although more research is needed to confirm the causal relationship between oral health and oral HPV infection, people may want to maintain good oral health for a variety of health benefits,” said Dr. Bui. “Oral hygiene is fundamental for oral health, so good oral hygiene practices should become a personal habit.”
[Photo: Dr. Thanh Cong Bui (above) and Dr. Christine Markham]