Could Brushing and Flossing Prevent Oral Cancer?

General Health

flossingTaking care of your teeth can prevent cavities, gum disease, funky breath, and is one of the simplest preventative home remedies for toothache, but recent research suggests it can do much more. Regular brushing and flossing could reduce your risk of oral and throat cancer caused by one specific virus—HPV.

Published in Cancer Prevention Research, this latest study suggests good oral health could be  the key to preventing oral cancers caused by some strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Yes, the same sexually transmitted virus that we are being urged to vaccinate the youngest members of society against.

There are several strains of this virus. It’s estimated that about 7% of Americans have oral HPV, though it’s hard to make an accurate assessment as the virus usually shows no symptoms at all. A few strains may cause warts or small tumors in the mouth. Some strains, however, dramatically increase the risk of throat and mouth cancers.

The researchers looked at details from more than 3,400 participants in a survey known as NHANES. Of those participants who had admittedly poor oral health, the risk of oral HPV infection was 56% higher. For those with gum disease, oral HPV risk was 51% higher. Even those who had lost teeth or other dental problems experienced a higher risk of the cancer-causing virus—28% higher.

Though the study looked specifically at oral care and how it related to HPV infection (and not oral cancers), the researchers say that HPV is a known precursor to many types of oral cancer.

“The good news,” said Dr. Thanh Cong Bui, of the School of Public Health at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston, “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.”

While smoking and sex habits can also increase the risk of HPV infection, those people with poor oral hygiene habits showed an increase even when these things were accounted for.

Caring for your teeth should involve daily cleaning, and especially flossing between the teeth. But, what you eat can also have a dramatic impact on how healthy your teeth and gums are. Raw vegetables are great for your teeth both for mechanical and nutritional reasons. Thankfully, since we are always trying to look our best, many teeth whitening home remedies are also great for oral health. Oil pulling is another natural health remedy for good oral health, as coconut oil has been shown to even reverse cavities with regular oil pulling practices.