Dr Laura Torrado's Blog
August 7, 2017
By: Shira Newman, RDH
The human papillomavirus (HPV) has been a main topic of conversation in the medical and dental fields within the last 11 years due to a rapid increase in the number of cases present in the United States.
The virus causes approximately 30,700 occurrences of cancer per year according to the National Cancer Institute. While the development of oral cavity cancer has decreased due to the generational trend of smoking cessation, the development of oral pharyngeal cancers is on the rise as a result of HPV. The leading cause of oral pharyngeal cancer is 72% for men and 63% for women according to the publication Decisions in Dentistry. Most of these cases are caused by two main strains of the HPV virus, 16 and 18.
Luckily, there is a safe way to combat this virus. Vaccinations for HPV have been available as early as 2006, but only covered 4 of the most prevalent strands. However, in 2009 the vaccine had been replaced by a version that covered 9 of the most common strands leaving patients thoroughly protected. Patients are encouraged to become vaccinated before becoming sexually active to ensure proper coverage and protection. Yet, due to numerous factors, and the new controversy over additional vaccinations, many do not take advantage of this broad spectrum coverage that the vaccine provides. Dental professionals see this often as symptoms present in the oral cavity. We as dental providers need to be vigilant in screening for OPC, education and staying up to date on all new research coming in so that we can combat this head on.
Patient education is paramount when dealing with HPV so that every parent, and patient, know the risks associated with refusing the vaccination, and what that could translate to with their health. Patients need to fully understand that when they have not been vaccinated for HPV, they are opening themselves up to potentially contracting the virus, which could lead to oral pharyngeal cancer. The patient also must be assured that we as providers are doing our due diligence in inspecting the oral cavity for any abnormalities that may signal that something is amiss.
Finally, while there are risks associated with any vaccine, in this case, the potential benefit outweighs any cost. This vaccine could save the life of someone you love. We as dental professionals will continue to say current with the literature, so that we can help you make the best possible decisions for your health.