Important Facts to Help Keep You Educated

Staying on top of important topics, like oral health, can help patients remain vigilant against certain concerns. As we know, many health concerns are linked to our oral hygiene, so keeping your dentist in the loop can help you avoid developing certain cancers, especially if you or a loved one has HPV.

Human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US, with over 14 million new cases reported annually. In many cases, patients won’t know they’re affected, since symptoms often don’t present themselves and can be cleared out by the immune system without any indication of an infection. There are hundreds of strains of HPV, but only around 40 are spread through direct sexual contact. While most are no cause for concern, some oral HPV strains have been known to cause other health complications, like cancer, later in life.

It’s common for almost every person to be exposed to HPV at least once in their life, so prevention is an important part of keeping yourself safe. Talk to your doctor about HPV and ask about possible vaccination options for you or your children.

HPV and Oral Health

The HPV virus attacks areas of the body that are covered by mucous membranes, including the mouth and throat. Around 10% of men and 4% of women have oral HPV. Symptoms typically clear within two years, but it can lead to the development of oropharyngeal cancer. The strain of the virus is typically HPV16, and while it affects males more commonly, women should also take precautions, as well.

HPV16 is currently the leading cause of oral cancer in the United States. The oropharynx, or the back of the throat, can become infected years after exposure to HPV. Other factors, such as excessive alcohol consumption and tobacco use, have also been linked to increased risk of oral cancer with HPV. Patients with weakened immune systems are also more likely to develop the virus, so talk to your doctor, and make sure to keep visiting your dentist regularly if this is a concern.

Symptoms of Oropharyngeal Cancer

It can be helpful to stay educated and know what symptoms to look for if you have had HPV in the past. Many patients can feel shy or embarrassed when talking about certain things with their medical professionals, but it’s important to remember that most people are exposed to HPV at some point! Being honest can help ensure your health remains in check. If you experience any of the following symptoms, be sure to tell your dentist or doctor, so they can help you see a specialist and understand more about what could be causing it.

Symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer can sometimes include any or all of the following:

  • Prolonged sore throat, or long-lasting irritation
  • Earaches
  • Hoarseness or loss of voice
  • Pain when swallowing, chewing, swallowing, or moving your mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Red or white patches around or in the mouth
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness in-mouth or lips

Treatment and Prevention Options

Thankfully, with advances in modern medicine, many patients can greatly reduce their risk of contracting HPV – and potentially oral cancer with it. Vaccinations are available to help prevent cervical and other genital cancers, and can also help to reduce the infections that may lead to oropharyngeal cancer.

The CDC recommends starting children between the ages of 11 and 12 with two doses of the HPV vaccine. Patients under 26 years of age may also be eligible for vaccination, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about prevention options.

It’s important to remember that the HPV vaccine does not directly prevent oral cancer, and other factors, like tobacco and poor dental hygiene, can increase this risk. Staying on top of regular check-ups, proper brushing and flossing techniques, and good general habits are equally important.

How Your Dentist Can Help

Since oral cancer tends to develop in the throat, your dentist may help you keep an eye on the area to help notice any symptoms. At Acosta Dental Arts, PA, we offer patients in-depth dental exams for all ages. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our team today!