Increased efforts to prevent and treat periodontitis may help to reduce the risk of developing head and neck cancer, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 2009;18[9]:2406-2412).

To assess the role of chronic periodontitis on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (SCC researchers used radiographic measurement of bone loss to measure periodontitis among 463 patients. They were able to identify that chronic periodontitis might represent a clinical high-risk profile for head and neck SCC. According to Mine Tezal, DDS, PhD, research scientist in the Department of Dentistry and Maxillofacial Prosthetics at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the strength of the association was greatest in the oral cavity, followed by the oropharynx and larynx. Further evaluation revealed that patients with periodontitis were more likely to have poorly differentiated oral cavity SCC than those without periodontitis 32.8% versus 11.5%).

“Our study suggests that chronic periodontitis may be association with poorly differentiated tumor status in the oral cavity. However, grading is subjective and we only observed this association in the oral cavity. Therefore this association may be due to chance and needs further exploration,” Tezal added.

Andrew Olshan, PhD, said that the results of the study lend further support to the potential importance of poor oral health in this form of cancer. “The study of poor oral health including the possible carcinogenic role of microorganisms is part of a rapidly growing interest in how a community of microbes that live in the various environments of the human body can affect health,” Olshan said. “Although the study is comparatively small, the researchers were able to see an association between bone loss and the risk of head and neck cancer.”