Oral health tied to HNC survival

Neck Exam Doctor

Better oral health is linked to increased survival from head and neck cancer (HNC), according to research published on September 19 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute

Researchers led by Dr. Jason Tasoulas from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill reported significant associations between oral health and survival from HNC. Specifically, they found that people who had more frequent dental visits were more likely to have their cancer diagnosed at an earlier, less deadly stage of the disease compared to those who had few or no dental visits.

For the study, the researchers asked patients with HNC to self-report aspects of their oral health and hygiene. These aspects included bleeding gums, tooth brushing frequency, mouthwash use, as well as the number of natural teeth and frequency of dental visits they had during a 10-year period prior to their cancer diagnosis.

The team used data from about 2,500 patients from eight different countries as part of the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology consortium. The researchers reported that those who had more frequent dental visits, defined as more than five visits in a reported decade, had overall five- and 10-year survival rates of 74% and 60%, respectively. Those who reported no dental visits meanwhile had five- and 10-year survival rates of 54% and 32%, respectively (J Natl Cancer Inst, September 19, 2023). 

The findings were "most pronounced" among patients with cancers of the oropharynx, the team noted. Additionally, having no natural remaining teeth was tied to a 15% lower five-year overall survival compared to those with more than 20 natural teeth.

Finally, the researchers found no significant survival differences between the two groups for patient-reported gum bleeding, tooth brushing, and mouthwash use. The study authors said they hope the findings become a standard part of guidelines implemented for the prevention and management of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas.

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