Good dental hygiene can help reduce the risk of oral cancers, say researchers. [Photo: Bigstock]

Brushing and flossing could help prevent HPV-related oral cancers

27 August, 2013

 Natural Health News — Simply taking better care of your teeth by brushing and flossing every day could help protect against oral and throat cancer.

In a new study, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, scientists from the University of Texas say mouth and throat cancers are on the rise and the human papilloma virus (HPV) the most likely culprit.

So, the researchers asked, how much difference could brushing and flossing make to the incidence of this disease.

They began by examining data on 3,439 people taken from a national health survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That included testing people for oral HPV and also asked how they’d rate their oral health.

People were also asked if they thought they had gum disease, and if they’d used mouthwash to treat an oral health problem in the last week. Dental hygienists conducted an oral health exam and noted if people were missing teeth.

Sorting through the risk factors

Almost one-third said they had only poor to fair oral health. These were 56% more likely to have an oral HPV infection. Three specific indicators of oral health – the presence of gum disease, the use of a mouthwash to treat gum disease  and missing teeth – also were independently associated with a higher (51%) risk of HPV infection.

The scientists also looked at whether smoking cigarettes and having oral sex, two known risk factors for oral HPV infection, could be influencing the results. They found that people with poor oral hygiene were still more likely to have an HPV infection, even when they adjusted the data to account for these two factors.

“Someone may be exposed to oral HPV, say through oral sex, but the virus still needs an entry way into the body. It needs to work its way into (the) epithelium,” says lead researcher Christine Markham of the University of Texas Prevention Research Center. “If someone has poor oral health they may have ulcers, chronic inflammation of the gums, sores or lesions – things that create an entry portal for the virus to get in.”

“Brushing, flossing, seeing a dentist may decrease overall risk for oral HPV infection,” she adds.

A rare disease on the rise

Oral cancers used to be relatively rare and related mostly to tobacco use. Now each year in the United States, more than 2,370 new cases of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers are diagnosed in women and a staggering 9,356 are diagnosed in men. White men have  the highest rates of HPV-related throat cancer.

The rise in HPV-realted oral cancer stands in contrast to the fact that smoking related oral cancers are in the decline.

Today in the US, the Centers for Disease Control reports that about 60% of oropharyngeal cancers — cancers of the throat, tonsils and the base of tongue — are related to HPV.

A recent study in Europe suggested that around a third of oral cancers are related to HPV. An earlier global study involving patients from Italy, Spain, Northern Ireland, Poland, India, Cuba, Canada, Australia, and Sudan also found strong links with the HPV virus.

Tobacco and alcohol are well-established causes of these cancers. Diets low in fresh fruit and vegetables and therefore low in essential micro-nutrients, as well as poor oral hygiene have also been associated with increased risk.