It might be another good reason to brush, floss and rinse. A new study from the UT Health Sciences Center in Houston finds there is a link between oral health and the human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is commonly associated with sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer in women, but this research shows it can also be a threat to oral health. "Oral HPV is the cause of anywhere between 40% to 80% or oropharyngeal cancers," says Dr. Christine Markham, who helped conduct the research for the UT Health Sciences Center. She tells KTRH that people's oral hygiene can be a contributing factor. "Those that reported having poor or fair oral health had a one-and-a-half times more likely risk of being infected with oral HPV than those who reported good to excellent oral health."
The link between HPV and oral cancer is a relatively recent phenomenon, only discovered within the last decade, but it is real. "We are seeing more patients come in who are non-smokers and non drinkers, those two being the more traditional risk factors, and now we're seeing patients who don't have those risk factors who are coming with oral cancer," says Dr. Tejash Patel, an oncologist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Houston. "Therefore the connection with that cancer is often HPV-related." However, he cautions there are many factors that can lead to increased risk for HPV, and oral hygiene is only one of them. "I'm not quite ready to say that just because you have bad hygiene means you're going to get the virus, but it is an intriguing finding."
Experts say the biggest risk factors for developing oral HPV are drinking, smoking, and even oral sex. However, maintaining proper oral hygiene like regularly brushing and flossing your teeth and rinsing with mouthwash is also a factor. "Good oral hygiene and oral health habits are just good practice for your overall general health," says Dr. Markham. "And this study indicates that they may also reduce your risk of oral HPV infection."