The Impact of HPV on Oral Health


HPV stands for human papilloma virus. It is a sexually transmitted disease. The CDC reports that there are over 40 different types of HPV, though they also note that most of these strains are cleared from the body by the immune system without any serious complications.

Even so, there are several strains of HPV that can result in serious conditions, like oropharyngeal cancer. Of the 14 million new cases of HPV each year, about 1% of these cases result in a type of head and neck cancer.

Head and Neck Cancers

Health professionals in every field are becoming increasingly concerned about the risk of HPV. In the dentistry field, we want to focus on preventing HPV to reduce the risk of oropharyngeal cancer.

Although there are other causes for head and neck cancers other than HPV, this particular virus causes about 70% of oropharyngeal cancers. Preventing new cases of HPV may help us effectively combat head and neck cancers.

Development of Head and Neck Cancers

Regardless of the cause behind head and neck cancer, cases generally share a common set of symptoms. Oropharyngeal cancers develop in the soft tissues of the throat, including the back of the tongue, tonsils, and adenoids. Cancer in these areas can be difficult to detect, which is troublesome because early detection is key to saving lives.

Although we are always looking for signs of oropharyngeal cancer, you can take charge of your health by watching for symptoms of this disease, which include:

  • Sores or irritation that do not go away.
  • Red or white patches in your mouth or on your lips.
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness in your mouth or on your lips
  • Lumps or thickening tissues, especially in your throat.
  • Rough spots, crusty, or eroded areas anywhere in or around your mouth.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue.
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth.

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. Early detection can make treatment much more effective.

Protect Yourself

Your most effective weapon against cancer is awareness of your own health conditions and how your choices can impact your overall health. You can also take steps to protect yourself by attending regular appointments with your entire health team, receiving an HPV vaccination, and engaging in safe behaviors with regards to every aspect of your life.