A new study published in the September 12th online edition of JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery suggests that oral cavities may help to prevent some types of head and neck cancer.

Cavities are caused by an excess of lactic acid, which decays the tooth slowly over time. Lactic acid is produced by the bacteria streptococci, lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and actinomycetes, the same ones vital to digestion, mucus production, and systemic immunity. (They’re also used for making yogurt!) It’s the lactic acid that may lower risk of certain types of head and neck cancer. That doesn’t mean you should stop brushing your teeth, however.

The article’s authors stress that the goal with oral health and warding off cancer is to avoid things that may shift the microbial balance in the mouth, like smoking.

The study followed 399 people with head and neck cancer and 221 people without cancer. The people with with most amount of cavities had were the ones least likely to have cancer. In fact, more cavities meant as much as a 32% lower risk even after factors such as age, sex, alcohol use, and smoking were taking into account.

More research should be conducted with larger sample sizes and to see if previous or filled cavities have any effect.

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