Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is an incredibly common virus with over 150 types, 40 of which are spread through sexual contact. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 79 million Americans are currently infected, making HPV the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States.
Both healthcare providers and their patients must be aware of the effects of HPV on the body systems, including the inside of the mouth. The stigma associated with contraction of STIs can keep patients from seeking dental care to diagnose lesions, yet early detection and treatment planning produce the best outcome for anyone exhibiting symptoms of HPV and other STIs. Gaining knowledge about prevention and treatment is key to slowing the spread of this dangerous group of viruses.
Most people infected with HPV show no symptoms and can unknowingly transmit the virus to their sexual partners. The symptoms of HPV in men are genital warts that appear as raised lesions on the soft palate, throat, mouth, penis, anus or scrotum. These warts are not always obvious, which makes identifying them a challenge, and the fact that HPV can be spread even when an infected person has no visible signs or symptoms can complicate prevention. The CDC states that most outbreaks of HPV resolve and do not cause additional problems in patients. In certain cases, however, there is potential for the virus to lie dormant in the body and reappear with an outbreak, sometimes even years after initial contraction of the virus.
Oral Screenings for HPV Prevention
While there is no approved STI test for HPV in men, oral screenings are one way health professionals can assist in disease detection and transmission prevention. The process takes very little time and can lend some very important benefits for patients. Each visit, the dentist should perform a visual oral cancer screening, looking for lesions associated with HPV and oral cancer.
Patients should be sure to speak to their dentist about possible symptoms and ask how they can check for variations of those symptoms when completing oral care at home. And using quality dental care products, like Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield™ Mouthwash, can assist patients in keeping their mouths healthy. So if an oral lesion should arise, the clinician can more easily identify its cause, rather than attribute it to a bacterial concern or lack of proper home care.
Oral Conditions Related to HPV
While HPV does not necessarily spell out cancer, it can assist the body in making cellular changes that can lead to the occurrence of cancer. Penile and anal cancers have direct links to HPV. Health professionals can also identify throat and oropharyngeal cancers, which can be caused by HPV infections that do not resolve. These cancers have the most favorable diagnoses when detected in early stages.
Identifying symptoms of HPV via oral examinations can be the key to early detection and treatment, and regular dental examinations can be part of the solution in early detection. Through referrals from dental professionals to dermatologists, medical doctors and oral surgeons, patients can receive early, and often less complex, treatment plan options and reduce their risk for major health complications in the future.
About the author: Emily Boge, RDH, BS, MPA, has practiced dental hygiene since 2003 in Manchester, Iowa. She recently accepted a new role as Dental Administrative Chair at Hawkeye College in Waterloo, Iowa. Emily is the owner of Think Big Dental, a consulting and writing firm specializing in the education of corporations and health professionals on the role of a dental hygienist.