A sexually transmitted virus has been linked to a number of oral health problems, according to new research.
The study, published in Cancer Prevention Research, showed the human papillomavirus (HPV), transmitted via oral sex, was found to be associated with gum disease, tooth loss and other dental problems.
The study found those who said they had poor oral health had more than twice the number of HPV infections (56 per cent), a number similar to those who had gum disease (51 per cent). The research also pointed to a link between HPV and the number of teeth lost.
Of more concern is the link between the human papillomavirus and mouth cancer. Experts suggest it may rival tobacco and alcohol as a key risk factor within 10 years. In the UK, around one in five mouth cancer cases are predicted to be as a result of the HPV infection.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is spread through sexual contact and is more usually associated with cervical cancer in women. Both the number of sexual partners a person has throughout their lifetime, along with their age at sexual debut, has been associated with sexually-transmitted HPV. As the majority of HPV cases are seen in younger people, there has been a dramatic fall in the age of the average mouth cancer sufferer.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, urged everyone to consider the implications of poor oral health.
Dr Carter said: “Good oral health should be a cornerstone of everyone’s daily routine. The research suggests keeping this infection at bay is relatively simple. All it involves is a good oral health routine, but there is an even bigger issue to consider. The HPV infection is very common and is a major reason mouth cancer cases have soared over the last 30 years. Our knowledge of HPV remains relatively low, which suggests there is not enough awareness of the risks we take with multiple sexual partners.
“The research also reinforces our call to vaccinate young males in the UK to stop this disease spreading. The health of young people has been called into question recently, and this is another area the Government must invest in to bring about long-term improvements in health.
“Smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, poor diet and smokeless tobacco are all risk factors which can contribute to mouth cancer. People who smoke and drink to excess are up to 30 times more likely to develop the disease, so it is crucial we continue to educate the public about these risks.
“As a result it is really important that everyone knows the warning signs for mouth cancer. Mouth Cancer Action Month will take place throughout November and is an ideal opportunity for people to find out more about these risks. They include ulcers which do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth. Our message to everyone is simple. ‘If in doubt, get checked out’.”
The researchers identified 3,439 participants aged 30 to 69 years from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), for whom data on oral health and the presence or absence of 19 low-risk HPV types and 18 high-risk HPV types in the oral cavity were available. Oral health data included four measures of oral health: self-rating of overall oral health, presence of gum disease, use of mouthwash to treat dental problems within 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, which influence HPV infection.