From an early age, we are told to practice good oral health care to avoid getting cavities.  Cavities are a form of tooth decay that is caused by lactic acids that form in the mouth from fermented carbohydrates and strip teeth of their minerals.  However, researchers from the University at Buffalo, NY claim that previous studies have shown a link between the bacteria that causes tooth decay and an immune response that may help prevent cancer.  In their study published online in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, the researchers are looking for a link between dental cavities and Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC).

The Study: Cavities and Neck Cancer

For their study, the researchers analyzed the dental history of 399 patients newly diagnosed with HNSCC and 221 patients without HNSCC.  The patient records were selected from the Department of Dentistry and Maxillofacial Prosthetics at Roswell Park Cancer Industry between 1999 and 2007.  The researchers examined the dental records to determine the number of decayed, missing, and filled teeth in each patient.


The research showed that patients in the top third of participants with high cavity numbers were less likely to have HNSCC compared to participants with lower cavity numbers in the bottom third.  According to the researchers:

“Lactic acid bacteria cause demineralization only when they are in dental plaque in immediate contact with the tooth surface.  The presence of these otherwise beneficial bacteria in saliva or on mucosal surfaces may protect the host against chronic inflammatory diseases and HNSCC.”

The researchers hope that shedding light on the protective qualities of lactic acid bacteria will lead to more strategies to preserve the bacteria while reducing the risks of cavities.  The researchers claim, “We could think of dental caries (cavities) as a form of ‘collateral damage’ and develop strategies to reduce its risk while preserving the beneficial effects of the lactic acid bacteria.”

These strategies could include implementing mechanical plaque control, preservation of saliva, use of fluoride, and keeping diet and other factors under control.