Healthy Beginnings

Does Poor Oral Hygiene Lead to Cancer?

The link between periodontal disease and heart disease is extremely well documented, and there is emerging evidence of the connection between various types of cancer and poor oral hygiene.

Proving such a connection requires more research, but an increasing number of research studies are supporting this claim. One study followed almost 50,000 male health care professionals (whom we can assume have better-than-average oral hygiene) and found a statistically significant link between gum disease and lung, kidney, pancreatic and blood cell cancers, along with other types cancer. One can assume that the cancer connection would be even more significant in people with poorer oral hygiene habits.

A recent trend suggests that there is a connection between the increased risk of oral cancers when infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus that causes cervical cancer. We know that there are a few strains of cancer-causing HPV that can affect anyone, but some studies suggest that people who rate their oral hygiene as “poor” or “fair” are at a substantially higher risk for contracting oral cancer when compared to those who rate their oral hygiene habits as “good” or “excellent”, regardless of smoking history or number of sexual partners. Many people are infected with the HPV, and most will never develop cancer because of it; but neglecting oral health increases cancer risk.

There are also connections between smoking and dental/overall health. People who smoke typically have poor oral hygiene and are at an increased risk for various cancers, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis and more. Clearly, the decision to quit smoking can have a profoundly positive impact on a person’s health.

Marijuana is now legal in Nevada, among other states. While it is not a new product, the legalization of marijuana will lead to an increased use of the substance, and will open the door for more research. So far, we know that marijuana use can lead to several oral problems, including the development of severe “dry mouth” and a dramatic increase in cavities. Additionally, irritation, edema and redness of the oral tissues have been detected. A few studies have linked marijuana use and the increased risk of gum disease. As far as a link to the development of oral cancer, the high intraoral temperature from marijuana smoking can cause changes in oral tissues and cellular disruption. Although these changes likely could lead to oral cancer, the link has not been proven yet. Clearly, we have a lot to learn.

This is just a sampling of some of the current views and research on the connection between oral hygiene, cancer and other health concerns. Ultimately, poor dental hygiene leads to poor overall health. Taking good care of your oral health has no downside, and the upside may be years of extra life and vitality.

For more information, call The Reno Dentist at 775-200-9070 or visit