(HOUSTON) — Between 40 and 80 percent of mouth and throat cancers are caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV. Reducing these cancers may begin with better oral health, researchers at the University of Texas Health Sciences in Houston say.
For the study, published in Cancer Prevention Research, the researchers looked at data on about 3,400 participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, using info gathered in 2009 and 2010 that included self-reported oral health practices and whether or not they were infected with low and high risk strains of HPV.
They found that those who reported poor oral health had a 56 percent higher prevalence of oral HPV infection. Also, those with gum disease and dental problems, including lost teeth, had higher rates of oral HPV infection. The risk in those with poor oral health was higher than in those who smoke and have risky oral sex practices, which are known risk factors for HPV.
Critics of the study may note that its findings are merely associative. It may be that those with HPV infections are likely to have less healthy general behaviors, so a causal relationship is not really apparent. However, the rationale behind the study is that good oral hygiene lowers the risk of bleeding gums, mouth ulcers and other points of entry for HPV.
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Jackie Wattles, CNN