Posted on Apr 10, 2014

Researchers have recently discovered that poor dental hygiene and excessive use of mouth wash containing alcohol could increase the risk of cancer. Oral cancer can occur in the tongue, the floor of the mouth, the gum and the cheek. 

Each year, around 40,000 Americans and upwards of 640,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with oral cancer. Deaths from oral cancer in the U.S. last year alone were estimated at 7,890.

This discovery was published in Oral Oncology, originally conducted by the Leibniz institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology with help from Glasgow University’s Dental School.

The known risk factors for oral cancer are tobacco and alcohol. Independently both substances have carcinogenic effects. The effect when used in combination is multiplicative rather than additive. Smokers and drinkers exponentially increase their risk for oral cancer.

Another known factor is betel nut. For young men in countries in India and Pakistan, the most common cancer is oral cancer. This is attributed to chewing betel nut or paan, a preparation that includes betel nuts and betel nut leaves.

Beyond tobacco and alcohol and betel nut, other factors are more difficult to link causally. Although poor oral hygiene and use of mouthwash certainly may be contributing, the extent is difficult to define.

Studies say the bacterial population in the oral cavity may be contributing to development of oral cancers; however these studies aren’t large enough to establish a definitive association. Some researchers would consider oral hygiene and mouthwash to be soft factors.

Treating oral cancer depends on when it is detected early. More advanced tumors are difficult to treat, but doctors do still have the ability to cure them.

Oral cancer is a surface cancer. Early tumors usually will not show up on any imaging study and are best identified by clinical exam. A good dentist should perform an oral cancer screen.

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Gerry Oginski
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