Poor oral hygiene may have detrimental health effects beyond cavities and gum disease -- a new study links it with an increased risk of oral human papillomavirus (HPV).
The new research, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, shows that poor oral health is associated with a 56 percent higher oral HPV prevalence.
Gum disease specifically is linked with a 51 percent higher oral HPV prevalence and dental problems are linked with a 28 percent higher prevalence of infection, the University of Texas Health Sciences Center researchers found.
"Although more research is needed to confirm the causal relationship between oral health and oral HPV infection, people may want to maintain good oral health for a variety of health benefits," study researcher Thanh Cong Bui, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at the university's School of Public Health, said in a statement. "Oral hygiene is fundamental for oral health, so good oral hygiene practices should become a personal habit."
The study is based on data from 3,439 people between ages 30 and 69 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Data on the study participants' HPV status was evaluated, including whether they had 19 low-risk types of HPV (which don't cause cancer, but may cause warts or benign tumors) or 18 high-risk types of HPV (which can cause cancer) in their oral cavity, as well as several barometers of oral health.
Oral sex, marijuana-use, cigarette-use and being a male were all identified as HPV risk factors. But researchers also found that poor oral health was independently a risk factor for infection.
Researchers noted that wounds provide a "portal" of sorts for HPV infection to occur in the mouth. Therefore, "poor oral health, which may include ulcers, mucosal disruption, or chronic inflammation, may increase susceptibility to and infectiousness of HPV," the researchers wrote in the study. "Further research is needed to explore the pathologic mechanisms of oral health and oral HPV infection."
While cervical cancer is the most common HPV-associated cancer for women, oropharyngeal cancer is the most common HPV-associated cancer for men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A recent study published in The Lancet also described males (single males in particular) and cigarette-users as having higher oral HPV risks. Other known risk factors for HPV infection include having a high number of sexual partners, having a weakened immune system, coming into contact with warts caused by HPV, and having damaged skin where HPV can enter in, according to the Mayo Clinic.