What HPV Can Do to Harm Your Oral Health

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease in the US, with an estimated 14 million new cases every year. There are over 40 types of HPV, with most being cleared from the body by your immune system, without causing health issues. However, some types of HPV negatively affect the mouth and throat. Low-risk strains can cause warts in the mouth and throat, but high-risk strains have been linked to head and neck cancers, known as oropharyngeal cancers.

HPV-related Cancers: Prevalence and Symptoms

High-risk strains of head and neck cancer can affect any part of your mouth or throat. Although oral cancer is only one type of head and neck cancer, an estimated 7 percent of Americans have oral HPV, with 1 percent having the type found in head and neck cancers. Currently, HPV is linked to 9,000 cases of head and neck cancer each year in the US and is 4 times more prevalent in men than women. Symptoms of these cancers include:

  • Soreness or irritation that doesn’t disappear
  • Red or white patches in the mouth or on the lips.
  • Mouth or lip numbness.
  • Rough spots, eroded areas, thickening tissues, or lumps in the mouth or on the lips.
  • Difficulty speaking, moving your jaw and tongue, chewing, and swallowing.
  • A change in how your teeth fit together when closing your mouth.

Other general symptoms include hoarseness, change in voice, pain when swallowing, unexplained weight loss, and a feeling that something is stuck in your throat.

Is the HPV Vaccination Effective at Preventing Head and Neck Cancers?

The CDC recommendation is that boys and girls aged 11 to 12 years should receive 2 doses of the vaccine to prevent cervical and other genital cancers. It’s possible that the HPV vaccine prevents head and neck cancers by preventing the initial infection. Although studies are underway, there isn’t sufficient data currently available to support this claim, however. These cancers typically develop in the folds of the tonsils or around them and at the back of the tongue, making them difficult to detect. There is a lower risk of death or recurrence with HPV cancers than with other cancers, but early diagnosis is key for achieving the best health outcome. Regular dental checkups in our office can include a thorough examination of your entire head and neck, which is vital for early diagnosis.

HPV can be dangerous to your oral health, but early detection of HPV-positive cancers is essential for your overall health and well-being. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, contact River Valley Smiles immediately at 479-646-0706.

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