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Possible risks for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer

Men and women discussing mouth cancer

This page is about possible risk factors for mouth and oropharyngeal cancers. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Possible risks for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer

This page is about some possible risk factors for mouth and oropharyngeal cancers. But there is not enough evidence for these to be thought of as definite risk factors. With further research, some may turn out not to be risk factors at all.

Irritation to the lining of the mouth

Some people have worried that long term irritation to the lining of the mouth can cause mouth cancer. For example, dentures that do not fit properly could cause irritation. But most research studies have not found a link. Even so, you should have dentures checked by your dentist at least once every 5 years.

Mouth cleanliness

Studies show that people who brush their teeth only once a day or less, and people who go to the dentist rarely, have a slightly increased risk of oral cancer.

Mouthwash

Some studies have suggested that mouthwashes with high alcohol content could increase mouth cancer risk. But other studies found that this is not the case.

Tooth whiteners

Currently there is no evidence that tooth whitening products can cause mouth cancer but very little research has been done.

Body weight

People who are overweight seem to have a lower risk of developing mouth cancer.

 

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Possible risk factors

We have included information on the factors below because we are sometimes asked about them. But we must stress that there is not enough evidence for these to be thought of as definite risk factors. With further research, some may turn out not to be risk factors at all.

 

Irritation to the lining of the mouth

Some people have worried that long term irritation to the lining of the mouth can cause mouth cancer. For example, dentures that do not fit properly could cause irritation. But most research studies have not found a link. Even so, you should have dentures checked by your dentist at least once every 5 years. It is also important to clean and rinse them twice a day and take them out at night. This helps to prevent substances known to cause mouth cancer, such as tobacco and alcohol, staying trapped under your dentures.

 

Mouth cleanliness

Studies show that people who brush their teeth only once a day or less, compared to two or more times a day, and people who go to the dentist rarely, have a slightly increased risk of oral cancer.

 

Mouthwash

Some studies have suggested that mouthwashes with a high alcohol content could increase the risk of mouth cancer. But other studies have found that this is not the case. An overview of studies in 2012 found that mouthwashes do not increase the risk of mouth or oropharyngeal cancer.

 

Tooth whiteners

There is no evidence that tooth whiteners cause mouth cancer. But there has been very little research into a possible connection between the two. Tooth whiteners have become widely used in recent years. They may be applied by dentists but some types are available for people to use at home. Products include

  • Gels
  • Rinses
  • Chewing gums
  • Toothpastes
  • Paint on films
  • Strips

Most of these are based on either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Some UK products contain chlorine dioxide. Published studies have suggested that bleaching is a relatively safe procedure but the whiteners can cause some effects on the tissues of the mouth.

In March 2005, the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Products stated that the proper use of tooth whitening products containing normal levels of hydrogen peroxide (or equivalent for hydrogen peroxide releasing substances) is considered safe. But always check with your dentist before using them.

In 2006, doctors in London reviewed all the available information about tooth whiteners and mouth cancer. They recommended that there should be further research.

The American Dental Association made a report about tooth whitening in 2010. It stated that after 20 years of collecting information about tooth whitening it showed no serious harmful effects on the body as long as people were supervised by a dentist. People should also use products as instructed and should not use them more often than recommended or in higher doses.

 

Body weight

You may have a lower risk of mouth cancer if you are overweight or obese (have a high body mass index). Why this happens is not clear.

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Updated: 30 September 2014