Brushing and flossing teeth cuts HPV risk, study finds

Following good dental hygiene has taken on greater importance lately not only to protect your teeth and gums, but to prevent the spread of potentially harmful mouth bacteria into blood vessels where they can lead to atherosclerosis. Now, though, researchers have found an added benefit to daily flossing and brushing twice a day: a lower risk of getting infected with a sexually transmitted virus that causes throat cancers.

A study, published Wednesday in the Cancer Prevention Research Journal, found that people who reported having poor dental health were 55 percent more likely to have an oral infection with the human papillomavirus compared to those who had healthy teeth and gums.

Oncologists have expressed alarm over a rise in HPV-related throat cancers, which now account for 70 percent of these cancers; excessive drinking and smoking used to be the most common causes. HPV-related throat cancers gained heightened attention last June when actor Michael Douglas blamed his throat cancer on an HPV infection caused by oral sex. (His publicist later said his comments had been misinterpreted.)

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The researchers analyzed health data from nearly 3,500 adults and found that those who reported using mouthwash to treat dental problems—instead of going to the dentist—or who had lost teeth or had signs of gum disease were more likely to also have an HPV infection in their mouth. Researchers accounted for their smoking habits and oral sex practices, which also increase the risk of throat cancer.

“The good news is, this risk factor is modifiable,” said study author Thanh Cong Bui of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston. “By maintaining good oral hygiene and good oral health, one can prevent HPV infection and subsequent HPV-related cancers.”