The study published in the journal of the National Cancer Institute found significant correlations between dental health and survival among people with head and neck cancer.
Increased oral health was linked to better oral health, as measured by the percentage of natural teeth and dental visits before diagnosis.
People with more frequently visited dentists had a higher likelihood of having cancer diagnosed at an earlier, less deadly stage than those who visited the dentist infrequently or never.
In collaboration with the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology Consortium, researchers from the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Centre, UNC Adams School of Dentistry, and Moffitt Cancer Centre in Tampa, Florida, published a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The study asked head and neck cancer patients to self-report oral health and hygiene, including gum bleeding, tooth brushing frequency, and mouthwash use, as well as the number of natural teeth and the frequency of dental visits during a 10-year period before their cancer diagnosis.
At five and 10 years, those with frequent dental visits had a higher overall survival compared to those without dental visits.
This finding was most pronounced among people with cancers of the oropharynx, which consists of the structures in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue, tonsils and soft palate. The overall survival of those with more than 20 natural teeth was reduced 15 percent compared to those with no natural teeth. Survival differences of less than 5 percent, which were not significant, were reported for patient-reported gum bleeding, tooth brushing and mouthwash use.
While survival has improved in recent times due to treatment advancements, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma is the sixth most common cancer globally and accounts for about 4 percent of all cancers in the United States. An estimated 66,920 people will be diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. in 2023. The primary environmental risk factor for the disease is tobacco use, but alcohol consumption and testing positive for the human papillomavirus also increase a person's risk for the disease.