HEALTHY LIVING
09/24/2013 10:16 am ET

People With More Cavities Less Likely To Be Diagnosed With Head And Neck Cancer, Study Suggests

In news sure to delight 5-year-olds everywhere, there may be an upside to a mouthful of cavities.

According to a study published in this month's Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), patients with more dental cavities are less likely to be diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

A release accompanying the study attributes the apparent anticancer power of cavities to the bacteria responsible for the cavities in the first place. While lactic acid bacteria eat away teeth, elsewhere in the body "the presence of these otherwise beneficial bacteria in saliva or on mucosal surfaces may protect the host against chronic inflammatory diseases and [head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, or] HNSCC."

Put simply: More cavities may mean less cancer.

The survey, conducted from 1999 to 2007, relied on 620 participants in an unnamed cancer center. Patients with all manners of dental work were evaluated, with data collected on each individual's number of cavities, crowns, endodontic treatments and fillings. Those with the most cavities were 32 percent less likely to develop HNSCC.

But don't break out your stash of Halloween candy just yet. As Mashable notes, the study only documented a correlation between the two variables -- which is not the same as a direct cause and effect. Other (as yet undetermined) influences may have also contributed to the findings.

"The authors and correlation do not prove cause and effect," Dr. Joel Epstein, a diplomat of the American Board of Oral Medicine, cautioned to HealthDay. "Also, even if [cavities are] associated with reduced cancer risk -- seems very unlikely -- the dental damage, and infection risk of dental disease carries its own risk."

Tooth decay can have serious negative effects in both children and adults alike. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have linked oral health to diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Unlike so many other health issues, most oral diseases are completely preventable.

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