HealthDay News — Poor oral health is a risk factor for oral infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), independent of smoking and oral sex practices, researchers have found.

Among people who reported poor oral health in a nationally representative survey, 56% had an increased risk of HPV infection in the mouth and throat, Thanh Cong Bui, DrPH, from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, and colleagues reported in Cancer Prevention Research.

“The good news is, this risk factor is modifiable — by maintaining good oral hygiene and good oral health, one can prevent HPV infection and subsequent HPV-related cancers,”  Bui said in a press release.

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Although poor oral health is a known risk factor for oral and oropharyngeal cancer, little is known about it’s role in HPV infection. To better understand this relationship,the researchers analyzed data from 3,439 participants in the 2009 to 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (aged 30 to 69 years) for whom data on oral HPV and oral health were available.

The survey measured four areas of oral health: self reported overall oral health, suspicion of gum disease, use of mouthwash to treat dental problems in the seven days prior to the interview, and a count of missing teeth performed by a dental hygienist. Data on oral sex behavior was available for 1,868 participants. 

Among participants who rated their oral health as poor to fair (27.8%), the prevalence ratio for HPV infection was 1.56 (95% CI 1.25-1.95), the researchers found.

Prevalence ratios were also elevated for the 17.5% of participants who thought they might have gum disease, at 1.51 (95% CI: 1.13-2.01), and the 53.9% who said they recently used mouthwash to treat a dental problem, at 1.28 (95% CI: 1.07-1.52). Having a higher number of lost teeth was also associated with HPV risk (P=0.035 for trend).

Other factors that increased the chance for oral HPV infection included being male, smoking cigarettes, marijuana use and oral sex habits, the researchers found. However, in a multivariate analysis, self-rated overall oral health was significantly associated with oral HPV infection (OR 1.55, 95% CI 1.15-2.09) independent of smoking and oral sex habits.

“Public health interventions may aim to promote oral hygiene and oral health as an additional measure to prevent HPV-related oral cancers,” the researchers wrote.


  1. Bui TC et al. Cancer Prev Res 2013; doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.