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Bad teeth, gum disease tied to cancer-causing infection

Gum disease and other dental ailments boost the risk of becoming infected with oral human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus that causes 40 percent to 80 percent of all throat cancers, according to the first study to find such a link.

Those who said they had poor oral health had a 56 percent higher rate of oral HPV infection than those who reported good to excellent oral health, researchers wrote in a study published yesterday by Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The new study is the first to show a link between poor oral health and oral HPV infection, said Christine Markham, the study author.

"This is just another really good reason to take good care of your teeth and your mouth," said Markham, an associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. "Our findings show that even when you control for known risk factors for oral HPV infections such as smoking and oral sex behaviors, poor oral health is an independent risk factor for oral HPV infection."

Markham said poor oral health such as sores in the mouth or throat or inflamed gums may act as a portal allowing the HPV entry into the body. But more research is needed to better understand the connection, she said.

The study looked at 3,439 people who participated in a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It asked them to rate their oral health, whether they had gum disease, if they used mouthwash to treat dental issues and how many teeth they had lost.

The study found that those who had gum disease had a 51 percent higher rate of oral HPV than those without gum disease and those who had dental issues had a 28 percent higher prevalence.

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