Well-known risk factors for oral cancer include smoking, poor diet and infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Researchers from the University of Buffalo in the USA found that those people with HPV-positive oral cancer also had high rates of gum disease.
Publishing in the Archives of Otolaryngology, the researchers wrote that periodontal disease “…is easy to detect and may represent a clinical high risk [for HPV-positive oral cancer].” The study looked at 124 patients with mouth cancer and found that the cancer in 50 of those patients was caused by HPV infection. It is thought that severe gum disease can increase the risk of developing oral HPV infection which subsequently raises the risk of developing oral cancer.
In a related study, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that high levels of dental plaque led to both gum disease and cancer, and was associated with a premature death of up to 13 years.
Over 6200 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year in the UK and it is thought that most cases of the cancer in younger people are due to infection with HPV. If oral cancer is diagnosed at an advanced stage, the condition has a poor prognosis but the risks can be lowered through quitting smoking and practising good oral health.