Gum disease link to increase in head and neck cancer

The British Dental Health Foundation is looking to educate the public on good oral health after scientists discovered severe gum disease could be linked to an increased risk of head and neck cancer cases caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

The study found patients with HPV-positive tumours had significantly higher bone loss, a key factor in the development of severe gum disease, compared with patients with HPV-negative tumours.

Latest figures suggest more than 6,000 people in the UK suffer from oral cancer, while almost 2,000 lives are lost to the disease.

HPV is a growing cause of the disease, with experts suggesting it may rival tobacco use as the main cause of oral cancer within 10 years.

Other risk factors for developing the disease include tobacco use, drinking to excess and poor diet.

The significance of the research is compounded by the fact more teeth are lost through periodontal (gum) disease than through tooth decay.

Although further research is required to determine the exact relationship of the link between severe gum disease and an increased risk of HPV-related oral cancer, it is not the first time poor oral health and cancer have been linked.

Recent research carried out at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden suggested failure to brush your teeth properly could increase the chance of premature death resulting from cancer. They found a link between high levels of dental plaque – the cause of gum disease – and dying from cancer up to 13 years earlier than previously expected.

The findings of both studies present even greater evidence of the need to ensure good oral health, according to chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter.

Dr Carter said: ‘A greater understanding of how we can tackle this potentially life-threatening disease could lead to many lives being saved.

‘Most of us suffer from gum disease at some point in our lives, yet it is entirely preventable. By developing and keeping a good oral health routine it lowers the risk of gum disease and any possible links to more serious diseases. We should all take time to reflect on how we can make that a reality.’

The study, published in the Archives of Otolaryngology, sampled 124 patients suffering from oral cancer, 50 of which were as a result of HPV. Lead author Mine Tezal, D.D.S., Ph.D., of the University at Buffalo commented: ‘Periodontitis is easy to detect and may represent a clinical high-risk profile for oral HPV infection.

‘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.’

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