Dentists Urged To Talk To Patients About Cancer and HPV

Dentists Urged To Talk To Patients About Cancer and HPV

Your next dental checkup and cleaning could include a sex education lesson or STD test.

That’s because dentists are increasingly concerned about the increase of human papillomavirus cases, which is also leading to a rise in throat cancer cases.

Nonprofit health insurance billing company FAIR Health said 61 percent of oral cancer cases between 2011 and 2015 were related to HPV. While other risk factors like alcohol and smoking are still common, HPV is causing new strains of throat cancer.

The CDC published research in 2015 that HPV was the cause of 72 percent of oropharyngeal cancers; 62 percent were caused by both HPV 16 and 18 strains.

Dr. Kenneth S. Magid, DDS said many patients have no knowledge of the risks. Magid, who is an associate professor for New York University’s dental school and has his own practice said people are surprised to learn HPV can cause oral cancer.

Magid said all dentists need to screen their patients for oral cancer and HPV. However, he said, most don’t do it. Magid said he uses a device known as a Velscope, which can detect early cancer signs that are overlooked by sight.

While education is important, the real question is do people want to talk about sexually transmitted infections with a dentist?

According to a recent study, published in The Journal of the American Dental Association, the majority of dentists feel some obligation to talk about oral cancer to their patients.

Ellen Daley, a public health expert with the University of South Florida, said the study didn’t reveal any dentist that felt uncomfortable talking about the subject with their patients. Daley, however, wasn’t sure if dentists should be the ones testing for HPV. She said many cancers are found at the base of the tongue, which means rinses, tools and swabs that detect the virus may not be so sufficient.

She also said 90 percent of the HPV cases tend to clear up without ever becoming cancerous.

Daley feels dentists need to be their attention on cancer prevention including the suggestion that patients get the HPV vaccine.

Magid said the discussion about oral cancer and HPV might be uncomfortable, but feels the Velescope screening tool may be the answer to that problem.

Written by Mark Riegel, MD

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