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Possible Association of Chronic Periodontitis and Tongue Cancer Reported

May 24, 2007

If you google “periodontitis,” its listed cause will be an accumulation of bacteria at the gum line.  But recent evidence suggests viruses may also act synergistically with bacteria to cause periodontitis.  This is particularly noteworthy because periodontal pockets can act as reservoirs for human papillomavirus, cytomegalovirus, and Epstein-Barr virus, all of which are associated with oral cancer.  When taken together, these findings raise the possibility that chronic periodontitis may be associated with certain types of oral cancer.  As reported in the May issue of the Archives of Otolarynology-Head Neck Surgery, NIDCR grantees and colleagues took a first look studying 51 people with primary squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue and 54 healthy volunteers.  Using panoramic radiographs, they measured the amount of alveolar bone loss, which can serve as a record of a person’s history of periodontal disease.  The researchers found, after controlling for age, smoking, and number of teeth, those with tongue cancer had greater average alveolar bone loss than healthy controls.  The researchers stressed, however, that their data are preliminary.  They noted that this association needs to be confirmed by larger studies that include cancers in other oral sites and employ more comprehensive assessments of possible confounders. 

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This page last updated: February 26, 2014