Author: Jaleesa Baulkman for DailyMail.com
Your dentist may be interested in more than just your flossing habits, but for a good reason. Dentists and dental hygienists are being encouraged to assess patients’ risk of developing oral cancers from HPV, the most common sexually-transmitted disease.
According to experts, they will likely skirt around the topic of their patients’ sex life and ask about potential symptoms of cancer like jaw pain and swelling.
But a new report published in the Journal of the American Dental Association insists it is imperative that dentists to play a more active role in detecting the disease, which is linked to seven types of cancer.
‘What we’re going to find over time is that HPV is going to be a more common cause of cancer over time,’ Ellen Daley, a public health professor at the University of South Florida, told Daily Mail Online. ‘We need to worry about how to prevent it.’
HPV is responsible for about 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most common sexually transmitted infection in the US, it affects more than half of American adults. In fact, Dr Daley says it’s as common as the common cold.
However, asking about a patient’s sex life isn’t necessary to preventing HPV-related oral cancers.
‘If [dentists] want to [ask patient’s about their sex life], they can, Dr Daley explained. ‘But that’s not relevant since HPV is so common. We need to get pass how it’s transmitted and worry about preventing cancers.’
There have been nearly 16,000 annual cases of oropharyngeal cancers — cancer of the tongue, tonsils and pharyngeal wall — between 2008 and 2012, with HPV being the cause of approximately 72 percent of those diagnoses, according to data.
For the study, Dr Daley and her team conducted four focus groups with a total of 33 dentists.
Research showed that most dentists knew HPV was a risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer, but several were not sure about what causes HPV-related oral cancer.
The study found that many dentists don’t know how to approach the subject of HPV and lack the communication skills needed to educate patients effectively.
Most dentists said they were concerned their patients would think they were judging their personal behaviors. In other words, asking patient’s about their sex lives is out of the question. However, dentists and dental hygienists are trained to screen for oral cancers.
Examining the area under the tongue and looking in the back of a patients’ mouth are ways dentists screen for oral cancer. However, HPV-related oral cancers are difficult to detect because they develop in the throat at the back of the tongue, or in the folds of the tonsils, according to the American Dental Association.
HPV oral and oropharyngeal cancers are harder to discover than tobacco related cancers because the symptoms are not always obvious to the individual who is developing the disease, or to professionals that are looking for it. They can be very subtle and painless
HPV, which is transmitted through vaginal, anal and oral sex, is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection in the US, according to the CDC, affecting more than 79 million Americans. There are more than 40 types of HPV that can affect the mouth and genitals, but HPV 16 and 18 are the two most common cancer-causing types. According to the CDC, HPV type 16 is responsible for 60 percent of all oropharyngeal cancers. Non-cancer types of HPV can cause warts in the mouth or throat.
Some symptoms to look out for include, a persistent sore throat, earaches, enlarged lymph nodes, unexplained weight loss and painful swallowing. However, some people have no signs or symptoms, according to the CDC.
The HPV vaccine, which is administered to children aged nine and 12 years old in the US and the UK, is a preventive measure against HPV and HPV-related cancers. The vaccine is offered as a three doses in the US, and two doses in the UK. Condoms and dental dams also serve as protective barriers against the disease.