Having Cavities Might Prevent Some Cancers


New research suggests that adults who have cavities in their teeth might have less of a risk to develop certain cancers, such as those associated with the head and neck.  The team of researchers based their study on comparing 399 people who had various head and neck types of cancer with 221 who were healthy and cancer-free.

The head of the research study, Dr. Mine Tezal of the University of Buffalo, analyzed the data and discovered that the people in the group of healthy individuals without cancer who had cavities in their teeth had a risk of getting neck and head cancers that was 32 percent less. Factors like marital status, gender, and drinking and smoking habits were some of those taken into account.

The research for the study was conducted at a comprehensive cancer center’s dental and maxillofacial prosthetics clinic.

According to the researchers, their study suggests “an independent association between dental caries and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.”

These sorts of bacteria associated with cavities, besides having the potential to prevent head and neck cancer, might also serve to  lower the risk of allergies, inflammatory diseases, and even other sorts of cancer, though more research needs to be done to verify the results of Dr. Tezal and the other researchers at the University of Buffalo.

Why would people who have cavities be less prone to developing certain cancers?

The lowered cancer risk for some types of cancer might be due to lactic acid bacteria which is present in cavities. These are similar to bacteria found in yogurt, and lactic acid bacteria could potentially be a protection against developing neck and head cancers.

Cavities in the teeth are associated with other health ailments, including the pain a person experiences from having them, and the difficulty of eating on whichever side of one’s mouth that the cavities are in; but, the cavities -or, rather, the lactic acid found in them — could have the benefit of hindering the development of some types of cancer cells.

Dr. Mine Tezal mentioned in an interview in Health Day that if a person has gum disease, that is a different case, as “we had previously observed an increased risk of head and neck cancers among subjects with [gum] disease.”

Dr. Dennis Kraus, who works at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, told Health Day:

We see a mechanism that may protect against mouth cancer, and may be a potential strategy either as part of prevention or treatment of oral cavity cancer. This is a fascinating first step.”

You can read this study online in Jama Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Also, according to an article at Medscape.com, cavites and the lactic bacteria found in them cause to result “a potent Th1 immune response in peripheral blood mononuclear cells promoting CD8+ T-cell responses.”

Does this mean eating a lot of sweets and other foods containing sugar, and also not brushing your teeth and flossing are good for your health? Probably no dentist would tell their patients that the lack of practicing good dental hygiene is healthy for you; but, lactic acid definitely seems to be good for you and acts to help prevent some types of cancers, whether it’s from your cavities or from some other source, such as yogurt.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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10 Responses to "Having Cavities Might Prevent Some Cancers"

  1. douglascobb   September 16, 2013 at 10:16 am

    And yet, we’re told it’s good dental hygiene to see a dentist regularly and use flouride toothpaste. Cavities are definitely not fun, but niether is cancer. No one wants to have bad breath, which cavities can cause — perhaps it’s best to use some sort of non-flouridated toothpaste and only see a dentist if it’s medically necessary, like you have a chipped tooth, or need a root canal, or braces.

  2. Follow The Money   September 16, 2013 at 8:44 am

    The “dental x-rays caused the head and neck cancers” sounds like a plausible explanation that the researchers perhaps never considered. Did they ask the study subjects about their dental x-ray exposure?

    Another possible explanation for why those with more cavities had a lower risk of cancer may be that these people had lower exposure to fluoride. A cancer study of rats found that fluoride seemed to cause a higher rate of pre-cancerous lesions in the mouth and throat, presumably because of the direct contact with these tissues. The fluoride concentration in fluoridated toothpaste is as high as that given to the rats. So, perhaps those who use more fluoridated toothpaste are at higher risk of head and neck cancers, but have fewer cavities.

    This article didn’t give any details of the types of head and neck cancers. If they originated in the bones, then fluoride would again be a plausible explanation. Fluoride stimulates bone remodeling, and higher rates of bone remodeling mean the cells are dividing more often, which gives them more opportunities for experiencing a defect during replication, which could lead to cancer.

  3. Bill   September 15, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Salivary gland cancer is considered to be almost 100% the result of dental x-rays. It basically didn’t exist before x-rays became commonplace. Dentists consider the benefits of x-rays to be worth the risk.

  4. ianp   September 15, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Cavities smell. And act as a barrier against head, neck, intimate contact transmissible diseases (HPV) ?

  5. d   September 15, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I have had both multiple cavities and head/neck cancer by the time I was 18 :\

  6. Karl Davis   September 15, 2013 at 7:34 am

    I bet they expected to find that cavities increase cancer risk and were surprised to find otherwise. There’s a lot of “Puritan” studies done to explain to people that their lifestyle causes terrible diseases. That’s largely true, but often researches like to frame studies to harp on it.
    When they find that a preventable problem doesn’t cause the malady they’re looking for, or better yet prevents it, they have to contain their disappointment and try to explain the resuls.

  7. myeke   September 15, 2013 at 7:25 am

    dental remedies cause cancer!!!

  8. Ducktight   September 15, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Fillings are probably better than cavities but that doesn’t mean that they are safe. Mercury in the amalgam, plastic in the white fillings, constantly exposed to saliva that you then swallow… Also I agree, the constant xrays that are expected these days (and in some states mandatory or the dentist won’t treat you because they might get sued for not keeping up with the standard of care), does expose you to a lot of radiation in that area and radiation is a known carcinogen.

  9. Charlene   September 15, 2013 at 6:36 am

    Anyone consider that those folks with cavities may not have been able to afford dental care that, these days, comes with X-rays nearly every time? Maybe there’s a link between excessive bite-wing and other kinds of “film” and head/neck cancer …

    • Ern   September 15, 2013 at 7:36 am

      Excellent insight Charlene, I would like to see that data too.


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