Human Papillomavirus and How It Can Affect Your Oral Health

Woman looking at her armHuman Papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viral infections ranging from “low risk” strains that cause your run of the mill plantar warts to “high risk” strains linked to genital malignancies. With the advent of better diagnostic capabilities and the misconception of infection, HPV is rapidly becoming the most frequently identified sexually transmitted disease in the United States and abroad. Due to the fact that HPV is highly associated as an STD linked to cervical cancer (ninety percent of cervical cancers contain HPV DNA), most in the general public don’t realize the impact HPV has on the population as a whole. With rates of cervical cancer amongst American females continuing to decline, thanks to advancements in intervention and treatment, there’s a large portion of the population that is becoming at the forefront of the epidemic and they don’t even know it. HPV associated oropharyngeal cancer-cancer involving the back or sides of the throat, tonsils, and base of the tongue-have been increasing in young men at a disconcerting rate. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, if current patterns persist, the variety of cases of HPV-associated throat cancer in men is anticipated to surpass cervical cancer rates in women as early as 2025.

The Changing Face of Throat Cancer

In the past, the main risk factors for developing most types of oral cancers, including cancers involving the throat, resulted from tobacco and/or alcohol abuse. With diagnoses typically occurring at a more advanced age (between 60 to 80 years old) and with the likelihood of co-morbidities (additional health issues), throat cancer proved to be extremely difficult to treat, with mortality rates between 50 to 60 percent. Over the past decade, as oral cancer cases have increased, the age at which patients are diagnosed has decreased, with a large quantity having very little to no history of tobacco and/or alcohol abuse. It didn’t take long for scientists to start connecting the dots so to speak. And though there has yet to be any conclusive evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between HPV and throat cancer, more frequently than not, HPV DNA is involved. And the fact is that if you do have HPV that is left untreated, the likelihood it will progress into something of a malignant nature is high. There often aren’t any symptoms for men, so the key is to get tested early and get treatment. The good news is that people with HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancers who undergo treatment have a disease-free, 5-year survival rate of 85 to 90 percent.

Oral Cancer Screenings in the Dental Chair

With most Americans seeing their dental health care professionals more frequently than their medical counterparts, it’s no surprise that oral cancers are being found most frequently in the dental office. Not to mention the fact it involves the area of the body we as a dental team are most familiar with. At Team Poitras, we take your overall health just as seriously as your dental health. That is why we perform oral cancer screenings on every patient at every hygiene appointment. Our oral cancer screenings involve a detailed intra-oral (inside the mouth) and extra-oral (outside the mouth) exam, which we couple with a review of your medical history, oral habits and lifestyle/diet. Our goal is to catch areas of concern quickly and early. Throughout the years our licensed practitioners have detected malignancies on more than one occasion. And although we definitely don’t relish in finding a patient with a lesion, we take solace in knowing we could have saved a life.

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