Poor oral hygiene may lead to overgrowth of pathogenic oral bacteria, which may induce chronic inflammation to promote the oncogenesis of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). This study investigated the association between oral bacterial profile and OSCC risk in a case-control study of 138 OSCC cases and 151 controls (88 cases and 90 controls for the discovery group and 50 cases and 61 controls for the validation group). Oral bacterial profiles were characterized by targeted sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene. Three species of periodontopathogenic bacteria, Prevotella tannerae, Fusobacterium nucleatum, and Prevotella intermedia, were associated with an increased OSCC risk. This association was modified by the genetic polymorphisms of TLR2 and TLR4. Use of alcohol, betel quids and cigarettes and poor oral hygiene were associated with a higher percentage of oral periodontopathogenic bacteria. The association between alcohol and periodontopathogenic bacteria was modified by the genetic polymorphism of ALDH2, with a stronger positive association observed among the ALDH2-deficient individuals. The percentage of periodontopathogenic bacteria was positively correlated with the level of salivary IL1β, an inflammatory cytokine. Overall, our results showed a positive association between periodontopathogenic bacteria and OSCC risk and this relationship may be influenced by lifestyle and genetic factors. Our results provided further biological support for the established association between poor oral hygiene and OSCC risk. This suggested that improving oral hygiene may reduce OSCC risk and should be part of a public health campaign to prevent the occurrence of OSCC.
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