The other benefits of brushing
Can good oral hygiene help to reduce your risk of cancer?
Carolyn Tillo Published: March 27, 2020
When you go to the dentist, are you just taking care of your teeth, or are there other benefits that come from your visit besides that free toothbrush?
The truth is that your oral hygiene factors into many other aspects of your overall health and wellbeing. Poor dental health has been previously linked to increased cardiovascular health risk and even pneumonia, according to studies published in the Journal of Periodontology and British Dental Journal.
A study published in the Annals of Oncology even found that good oral hygiene habits led to a modest reduction in the risk for head and neck cancer.
Faisal Ahmad, MD, head and neck surgical oncologist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, said dentists often serve as the first line of defense against head and neck cancer through screening and helping to identify concerning signs and symptoms. These include:
- White or red lesions on the tongue, gums or lips
- Pink, white or red sores that tend to bleed very easily
- Sores in the oral cavity area that don’t heal
- Numbness, including numb teeth, tongue or lips
- Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
- Loose teeth or changes in how dentures are fitting
These symptoms may be due to poor oral and dental health, but they could also be indicators of larger health issues as some head and neck cancers can first present this way as well, Dr. Ahmad said.
If patients do get diagnosed with head and neck cancer, dental visits before, during and after treatment are critically important, according to Dr. Ahmad.
In general, radiation, often used as part of the treatment for head and neck cancer, adversely affects your body’s ability to recover from dental and oral cavity issues by decreasing saliva production and making it harder for tissues to heal after problems develop. Getting any necessary dental work done before radiation begins may reduce the risk of developing more serious problems during treatment.
During and after treatment, you may need to see a dentist to deal with side effects including dry mouth, cavities, and loss of taste, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“The bottom line is that dental visits allow for early evaluation and diagnosis of health problems in the head and neck,” Dr. Ahmad said. “Catching problems early is always a great thing, and practicing good oral hygiene is an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle.”