Can poor oral hygiene cause cancer?

While there is no compromise with dental and oral hygiene, there are many people who take it for granted — brushing their teeth only once a day, or sometimes not even that, and not visiting the dentist periodically. These are big health no-nos.

It is said that people whose inner cheek, teeth and gums are in poor condition, may be more susceptible to mouth and throat cancers.

According to Dr Hitesh R Singhavi, consultant, head and neck surgeon at Fortis Hospital Mulund, oral cancer is one the most common cancers in India among men (11.28 per cent of all cancers), and the fifth most frequently occurring cancer among women (4.3 per cent of all cancers).

“Tobacco chewing, areca nut, alcohol consumption, and poor oral hygiene (POH) may have contributory effects. Most times, we associate poor oral hygiene with dental caries, gingivitis, periodontitis (gum disease) and foul smell, but poor oral hygiene in the long run can cause fatal diseases including cancer,” he says.

The factors

Dr Singhavi says there are numerous common factors leading to poor oral hygiene, including tobacco chewing, alcohol, areca nut chewing, infrequent dental visits, immunocompromised status, low socio-economic status and lower level of education.

How does it cause cancer?

“POH aids the carcinogenic potential of other known carcinogens, like tobacco and alcohol. It causes easy conversion of tobacco metabolite into cancer-causing products (nitrosamines). POH also reacts with alcohol to form aldehyde — a class I carcinogen (products which can independently cause cancer),” he says.

The importance of oral hygiene

One should not consume tobacco or tobacco products, which can cause gingival recession (loss of gums), leading to loosening of teeth and formation of precancerous lesions. Similarly, avoiding alcohol consumption may help maintain good oral hygiene, as evidence shows an alcohol drinker has higher chances of foul-smelling mouth, more tar burdened teeth, and greater possibility of bleeding gums, the doctor explains.

oral cancer, what is oral cancer, what causes oral cancer, poor oral hygiene and oral cancer, the importance of oral hygiene, indian express news Dr Singhavi says there are numerous common factors leading to poor oral hygiene, including tobacco chewing, alcohol, areca nut chewing. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

Checking for cancerous lesions

Buccal mucosa (inner cheek mucosa) is the most common site of oral cavity cancer when POH is associated with tobacco chewing habits. When POH is associated with alcohol, then under the surface of the tongue, floor of mouth is the most common site.

Can a sharp tooth or ill-fit denture cause oral cancer?

“Yes. Chronic mucosal trauma due to sharp teeth or ill-fitting dentures can cause oral cancer. A study conducted by Tata Memorial Centre concluded that chronic mucosa trauma has higher chances of development of oral cancer, and it is not an uncommon finding in non-habitual patients, especially tongue cancers.

There are studies which have shown that maintaining good hygiene reduces the chances of oral cancer by 200 per cent, the doctor concludes.

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