Tooth cavities linked to lower risk of head, neck cancer in study

September 13, 2013 by Steven Reinberg, Healthday Reporter
Tooth cavities linked to lower risk of head, neck cancer in study
Bacteria involved in cavity formation may have some cancer-protective effect, researcher says, but skeptics aren't sure.

(HealthDay)—People with more cavities in their teeth may have a reduced risk for some head and neck cancers, a new study suggests.

That's because produced by may be protective against , the study authors said.

"This was an unexpected finding since dental cavities have been considered a sign of poor oral health along with periodontal disease, and we had previously observed an increased risk of head and neck cancers among subjects with periodontal disease," said lead researcher Dr. Mine Tezal, an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.

Tezal was quick to note, however, that the finding doesn't mean people should let cavities develop in hopes of preventing these cancers.

"The main message is to avoid things that would shift the balance in normal , including overuse of and smoking. Rather, you should maintain a and good oral hygiene, by brushing and flossing," she said.

The report was published Sept. 12 in the online edition of JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery.

For the study, Tezal's team evaluated 399 patients with head and neck cancers, comparing them to 221 similar people without cancer.

The investigators found that the people with the most cavities were the ones least likely to have head and neck cancer, compared to those with the fewest cavities. Those with the most cavities had a 32 percent lower risk even after factors such as sex, marital status, smoking and alcohol use were taken into account.

"It is important to point out that missing teeth and decayed filled teeth, a widely used measure of tooth decay, were not associated with head and neck cancers," Tezal said.

Cavities are caused by produced by bacteria such as streptococci, lactobacilli, actinomycetes and bifidobacteria, the same kinds of bacteria used in yogurt production, Tezal said.

"These bacteria have important roles in digestion, as well as in local mucosal and systemic immunity, and their reduction has been associated with chronic inflammatory diseases, allergies, obesity and cancer," she said.

Tezal said these bacteria could be a key to preventing some head and neck cancers.

"We could think of dental cavities as a collateral damage, and develop strategies to reduce their risk while preserving the beneficial effects of the lactic acid bacteria," she said.

However, Dr. Joel Epstein, a diplomat of the American Board of Oral Medicine who was not involved with the study, said its "limitations are many." Among these were the small study size and focus on current cavities only.

"Tooth loss early in life is typically related to cavities and trauma, and late due to periodontal disease, and this was not assessed in the study," said Epstein, a consultant with the division of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at the City of Hope, in Duarte, Calif.

"The authors and correlation do not prove cause and effect," he said. "Also, even if caries is associated with reduced cancer risk—seems very unlikely—the dental damage, and infection risk of dental disease carries its own risk."

More in-depth studies that "must be done are not done—this is a real problem of statistical correlation," Epstein said.

Another expert agreed that the findings are preliminary, but said that if confirmed, they might lead to new ways to prevent or treat head and neck cancers.

"We see a mechanism that may protect against mouth cancer, and may be a potential strategy either as part of prevention or treatment of oral cavity cancer," said Dr. Dennis Kraus, director of the Center for Head & Neck Oncology at the New York Head & Neck Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City.

"This is a fascinating first step," Kraus said.

Explore further: Care for head and neck cancer increasingly regionalized

More information: For more about head and neck cancer, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Related Stories

Care for head and neck cancer increasingly regionalized

September 7, 2013
(HealthDay)—Care for head and neck cancer is becoming increasingly regionalized, according to research published online Sept. 5 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Study examines chronic inflammation in oral cavity and HPV status of head and neck cancers

June 18, 2012
Among patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinomas, a history of chronic inflammation in the mouth (periodontitis, i.e. gum disease) may be associated with an increased risk of tumors positive for human papillomavirus ...

Periodontitis linked to HPV-positive head, neck tumors

June 20, 2012
(HealthDay) -- For patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) there is an increased risk of human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive tumors among those with a history of periodontitis, according to a study published ...

Depression up in post-radiation head and neck cancer survivors

August 16, 2013
(HealthDay)—For post-radiotherapy survivors of head and neck cancer, depression is fairly common, but treatment is underutilized, according to research published online Aug. 15 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Recommended for you

Understanding genetic synergy in cleft palate

July 19, 2017
Like all of the individual elements of fetal development, palate growth is a marvel of nature. In part of this process, ledges of tissue on the sides of the face grow downwards on each side of the tongue, then upward, fusing ...

Use of prefabricated blood vessels may revolutionize root canals

June 12, 2017
While root canals are effective in saving a tooth that has become infected or decayed, this age-old procedure may cause teeth to become brittle and susceptible to fracture over time. Now researchers at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, ...

Recreational cannabis, used often, increases risk of gum disease

May 24, 2017
Columbia University dental researchers have found that frequent recreational use of cannabis—including marijuana, hashish, and hash oil—increases the risk of gum disease.

Grape seed extract could extend life of resin fillings

May 9, 2017
A natural compound found in grape seed extract could be used to strengthen dentin—the tissue beneath a tooth's enamel—and increase the life of resin fillings, according to new research at the University of Illinois at ...

Crooked bite may indicate early life stress

April 13, 2017
Research has repeatedly confirmed that the first 1,000 days after conception strongly influence a person's life expectancy and susceptibility to chronic diseases. The primary marker used to identify early life stress is low ...

New study identifies successful method to reduce dental implant failure

March 24, 2017
According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID), 15 million Americans have crown or bridge replacements and three million have dental implants—with this latter number rising by 500,000 a year. The AAID estimates ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.