Poor oral hygiene may be an independent factor associated with an increased risk for oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, concluded the authors of a study (pdf) published August 21 online in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.
The study team at the School of Public Health at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston reviewed 2009 through 2010 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is collected by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. They identified 3,439 participants ranging from 30- to 69-years old, whose records in the NHANES database included both oral health and oral HPV information.
Specifically, the participants’ health records indicated either the presence or absence of 19 low-risk, HPV types, which are not associated with a greater likelihood for developing cancer but may increase the risk for warts or benign tumors in the oral cavity, or the presence or absence of 18 high-risk HPV types, which cause about 40 percent to 80 percent of oropharyngeal cancers.
Compared to those with good oral hygiene, the researchers found that the study participants who self-reported poor oral health had a 56-percent higher prevalence of oral HPV infection. Moreover, those who health records indicated they were treated for gum disease had a 51-percent higher prevalence of oral HPV, whereas the prevalence for oral HPV among participants who sought treatment for other dental problems was 28 percent.
The study authors also pointed out that there was a direct correlation between the prevalence of oral HPV infections and number of teeth lost to disease.
Other factors that appeared to be associated with an increased likelihood for oral HPV infection included the frequency and choice of oral sex partners and smoking. However, the researchers emphasized that overall, self-reported quality of oral health was an independent risk factor because its link to the prevalence of oral HPV infection did not change regardless of the participants’oral sex or smoking habits.
Because oral sores or lacerations need to be present for HPV to infect the cavity, poor oral health which often leads to “ulcers, mucosal disruption, or chronic inflammation, may create an entry portal” for the virus, explained lead author Dr. Thanh Cong Bui in a statement, announcing the study. However, he emphasized that at present, there is not enough evidence to substantiate this theory.
“More research is needed to confirm the causal relationship between oral health and oral HPV infection,” Dr. Bui said.