Cavities prevent cancer? That can’t be right. But according to a study released in JAMA Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery this month, it is — People with more cavities are at a reduced risk for certain head and neck cancers. So, does this mean cavities aren’t as bad as we thought?
Lead researcher of the study Dr. Mine Tezal says no — “The main message is to avoid things that would shift the balance in normal microbial ecology, including overuse of antimicrobial products and smoking.” But the findings were still unexpected, since previous studies have proved dental caries indicate poor oral health and periodontal disease. Also, individuals with head and neck cancers have previously been found to also have signs of periodontal disease like infections below the gum line.
The reasoning behind the claim that cavities protect against cancer is that lactic acid produced by bacteria that cause cavities may effectively ward off certain cancer cells. The lactic acid-producing bacteria “prompt cell-mediated Th1 immune responses that suppress tumor formation,” according to Everyday Health.
Ironically, the types of bacteria that produce lactic acid are streptococci, lactobacilli, actinomycetes and bifidobacteria — the same kinds of bacteria used in yogurt production. The ‘good kind’ of bacteria in yogurt is beneficial to the digestive and immune systems. Reduction of these kinds of bacteria in the body have been linked to “chronic inflammatory diseases, allergies, obesity, and cancer,” according to WebMD.
So in actuality, it isn’t entirely strange for the study results to show a decreased risk of certain cancers for those with increased dental caries. To break down the study, 399 patients were evaluated with head and neck cancer, and then compared to 221 people without cancer. Overall, participants with the most cavities were found to have a 32% lower risk of cancer — a pretty significant amount.
Some experts are critical of the study and point out the dental damage cavities cause including infection and periodontal disease. Though if more evidence shows that lactic-acid producing bacteria helps prevent cancers, new strategies for treating mouth cancer will inevitably come out of this.
Dr. Mike Malone and his team practice expert cosmetic dentistry in Lafayette, LA. Dr. Malone is the former president and current accredited member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is also the official Cosmetic Dentist of the Miss Louisiana USA and Miss Louisiana Teen USA pageants. Check out his website for more information.
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