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Study examines oral health, HPV infection

Philadelphia—Good oral health may reduce the risk of human papillomavirus infections in the mouth and subsequent HPV-related cancers, said a study published Aug. 23 in the American Association for Cancer Research journal.

The University of Texas Health Science Center research team believes theirs is the first published study to examine the role of oral health in oral HPV infection. They examined the relation between oral health and oral HPV infection and the interactive effects of oral health, smoking and oral sex on oral HPV infection. 

"Overall, this study indicates that poor oral health is an independent risk factor for oral HPV infection, irrespective of smoking status and oral sex behavior," the study concluded. "Given that oral hygiene is fundamental for oral health and that it is modifiable, public health interventions may aim to promote oral hygiene and oral health as additional preventive measures for HPV-related oral cancers.

"Our results also contribute to the knowledge of oral and oropharyngeal cancer pathogenesis attributable to poor oral health, by suggesting its indirect relationship through oral HPV infection."

More research is needed to enhance understanding of the relationship between poor oral health and oral HPV infection, the researchers said.

They identified 3,439 participants in the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), ages 30-69, for whom data were available on oral health and the presence or absence of 19 low-risk HPV types and 18 high-risk HPV types in the mouth.

The data included four oral health measures: self-rating of overall oral health, presence of gum disease, use of mouthwash to treat dental problems within the past seven days of the survey and number of teeth lost. They examined data on age, gender, marital status, marijuana use, cigarette smoking and oral sex habits, among others that influence HPV infection.

"Poor oral health is a new, independent risk factor for oral HPV infection and, to our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the association," said Thanh Cong Bui, doctor of public health and a postdoctoral research fellow in the Houston health science center. "The good news is, this risk factor is modifiable – by maintaining good oral hygiene and good oral health, one can prevent HPV infection and subsequent HPV-related cancers."

Oral HPV infection has been increasingly associated with a subset of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas. Oral HPV infection that is not associated with cancer can appeal as a benign lesion or wart in the mouth. But infection with higher-risk HPV genotypes, primarily HPV-16, is associated with the development of oropharyngeal cancer, particularly among middle-aged men, smokers and individuals with higher numbers of sex partners.

The study was published in the AACR journal Cancer Prevention Research.