Oral health and risk for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma: the Carolina Head and Neck Cancer Study

Cancer Causes Control. 2010 Apr;21(4):567-75. doi: 10.1007/s10552-009-9486-9. Epub 2010 Jan 5.


Objective: Recent reports have linked oral health and periodontal disease indicators with increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma of head and neck (SCCHN). Thus far, evidence has been inconclusive; our objective was to study the association between oral health and SCCHN risk in the context of a large population-based study.

Methods: A population-based case-control study of incident SCCHN, the Carolina Head and Neck Cancer Study was carried out in 2002-2006 in 46 counties in North Carolina. Controls (n = 1,361) were frequency matched with cases (n = 1,289) on age, race, and gender. Oral health was assessed using interview data on tooth loss and mobility, mouthwash use, and frequency of dental visits.

Results: Subjects were 26-80 years old (median age = 61). The distribution of tooth loss among controls was 0-5 teeth = 60%; 5-14 = 15%; and 16-28 = 25%. After controlling for covariates, tooth loss did not yield any notable association with SCCHN (16-28 vs. 0-5 lost teeth: OR: 1.21, 95% CI: 0.94, 1.56). Self-reported history of tooth mobility was moderately associated with increased SCCHN risk (OR: 1.33, 95% CI: 1.07, 1.65); however, the association did not persist among never smokers. Routine dental visits were associated with 30% risk reduction (OR: 0.68, 95% CI: 0.53, 0.87).

Conclusions: These data provide support for a possible modest association of periodontal disease, as measured by self-reported tooth loss indicators, but not tooth loss per se, with SCCHN risk.

Keywords: Case–control studies; Dental attendance; Head and neck cancer; Laryngeal cancer; Oral cancer; Oral health; Oropharyngeal cancer; Periodontal disease; Population-based studies; Risk factors.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Oral Health*
  • Oral Hygiene
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking