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New studies link gum disease to HPV causing oral cancer

A recent study has found yet another link between periodontal disease and other health problems. According to researchers at the University of Buffalo, USA, the presence of chronic gum inflammation (periodontitis) may leave the mouth more vulnerable to invasion by a virus that can cause cancers of the head and neck.

The culprit is Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV. It is sexually transmitted and, unfortunately, very common. HPV is a growing cause of oral cancer, with experts suggesting it may rival tobacco use as the main cause of oral cancer within ten years.

Associations of HPV with cervical cancer have led the medical community to develop vaccines for girls and young women that protect against them against HPV and cervical cancer. It is unknown at this time whether these vaccines would have any effect against oral strains of HPV.

The University of Buffalo study examined 124 patients who were diagnosed with head and neck cancers. Forty percent of the patients had tumours that showed the presence of HPV. Of the HPV-positive tumours, 65 percent were in the oropharyngeal region that includes the back of the mouth, the tonsils and base of the tongue, and the larynx or vocal cords.

New studies link gum disease to HPV causing oral cancerA link with periodontal disease was shown by the fact that the HPV-positive patients had greater loss of the bone that surrounds the teeth. And those with more bone loss had more HPV- positive tumours. In fact, the relationship was so strong that the researchers were able to predict whether or not a patient had such a tumour by looking at the amount of bone loss around their teeth.

Another study carried out at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden also suggested failure to brush 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 reality is that most of us will 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!

Simply, if you have swollen gums that bleed regularly when brushing, bad breath, loose teeth or regular mouth infections appear, it is likely you have gum disease. It is also vital to check regularly for early warning signs of mouth cancer. These include ulcers which do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth. That’s why at every examination at Bite Dental, we take the time to check not only your teeth, but also your gums, cheeks, lips, on and under your tongue for any signs of mouth cancer.

These findings are making periodontists and clinicians take seriously the need for good oral care in relation to overall health. So the bottom line, according to Dr Tezal, the lead author of the study: “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.”