The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine developed by the notable Professor Ian Frazer and colleagues was the first vaccine to immunise against cervical cancer. It is now marketed as Gardisil or Cervarix and helps protect unexposed women against 4 strains of HPV which are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers. So what does the cervical cancer vaccine have to do with dental health?
Recent evidence and a statement made by the American Dental Association indicate that the vaccine is also likely to protect against several other cancers because HPV infection has now been established as a risk factor for cancers of the oropharynx, specifically the tonsils and base of tongue.
Previously oral cancers were typically diagnosed in older men who smoked and drank, but in more recent times there has been an increase in oral cancers related to HPV 16 or HPV18. These typically occur instead at the back of the mouth, tongue or tonsils. The 225% increase from 1988 to 2004 in these HPV related oropharyngeal cancers is thought to be related to the growth in popularity of oral sex. The prevalence will increase in the next generation or so but thereafter a vaccinated cohort will start to emerge. The vaccination started in girls in 2007 and since 2013 has also been routinely given to boys because the fringe benefit of preventing other cancers became more apparent in the literature.
General dentists are ideally positioned to be able to perform thorough soft tissue examinations, identify suspicious oral lesions, and refer patients for biopsies to determine a definitive diagnosis. When we look at your mouth we don’t just look at your gums and teeth, we also look under the tongue and check your mouth and palate for specific warning signs, lumps, bumps or red/white patches. Currently in Australia, six people are diagnosed with oral cancers each day. Have you had your comprehensive oral examination in the last six months?
Click to view the ADA’s The Young Person’s Oral Survival Guide.