Poor oral health linked to cancer-causing oral HPV infection
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 researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). “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 Thanh Cong Bui, Dr. P.H., postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Public Health, part of UTHealth. “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.” The researchers 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 likelihoaod of oral HPV infection. They also found that selfrated 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. Because HPV needs wounds in the mouth to enter and infect the oral cavity, poor oral health, which may include ulcers, mucosal disruption, or chronic inflammation, may create an entry portal for HPV, said Bui. There is, however, currently not enough evidence to support this, and further research is needed to understand this relationship, he said.