By Dr. Heather Hradek
In October 2018, the American Dental Association adopted a policy that urges dentists to support the use and administration of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. What does HPV have to do with dentistry? More than you might think. The American Cancer Society estimated that there were 50,000 new cases of oral and oropharyngeal cancers in 2018, of which 70-80% were attributed to HPV. Cancer is no laughing matter… if only there were a way to prevent these cancers for those 50,000 people…
Thankfully, there is. The HPV vaccine could help prevent a vast majority of oral cancers, but compared to other vaccines in the US, is widely underutilized. HPV is THE most common sexually transmitted disease. The CDC estimates that there is 6.2 million new infections EACH YEAR in the United States, so a vast majority of Americans will have some form of HPV early in the sexual experiences and do not realize it as many do not have symptoms.
While it’s not comfortable to talk about, it’s important because HPV and the oral cancers that can be caused by it can be prevented by being vaccinated. The newer version of Gardasil prevents against the strains of HPV that can cause oral cancer (HPV 16), cervical cancer (HPV 16 and 18), genital warts (HPV6 and 11), and 5 other versions of HPV. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend boys and girls receive the HPV during adolescence starting at 11-12 years as vaccination at the pre-sexual ages provides the most protection. For those who did not receive the vaccine in adolescence, the FDA recently announced approval for persons age 27-45 to be vaccinated.
During every periodic examination, our doctors perform a visual head and neck oral cancer exam. The signs and symptoms we are looking for are the following:
• An ulcer or sore that does not heal within 2-3 weeks
• A red, white, or black discoloration on the soft tissues in the mouth
• Difficult or painful swallowing. A sensation that things are sticking in the throat when swallowing
• A swollen but painless tonsil. When looking in the mouth, tonsils on both sides should be symmetrical in size
• Pain when chewing
• A persistent sore throat or hoarse voice
• A swelling or lump in the mouth
• A painless lump felt on the outside of the neck, which has been there for at least two weeks.
• A numb feeling in the mouth or lips
• Constant coughing
• An ear ache on one side (unilateral) which persists for more than a few days.
If you are concerned about any of the following symptoms, please give our office a call at (219)929-9289 for us to perform an oral cancer exam.
Chesterton Family Dental is the general dental office of Dr. Mystie Pieters, Dr. Heather Hradek, and Dr. Robert Pieters providing comprehensive dental care for the entire family.