By Dr. Stephen Glass, DDS, Dental Director
April is Oral Cancer Awareness month, and a common question is where it comes from. One of the most talked-about viruses of recent years is a significant culprit: Human Papillomavirus, or HPV. Specifically, the HPV16 strain has been linked to oral and oropharyngeal cancers. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus and infection in the U.S. and affects more than 80 percent of U.S. residents. At this moment, approximately 26 million living in this country active oral HPV infection.
What can I do for prevention?
Those numbers above are extremely high, close to those with the Chickenpox virus (95%). However, there is a vaccine available that protects against several strains of HPV and prevents over 90 percent of possible HPV-caused cancers.
With our integrated model of care, Mountain Family Health Centers patients aged 9-to-45-years-old can access their medical provider for the HPV vaccine—likely at the same Mountain Family location they receive dental care. The ideal time frame for receiving the vaccine is prior to reproductive age, since the vaccine is only effective prior to someone acquiring a particular strain of the virus.
What else can I do to avoid oral cancer?
It is unlikely someone will be aware of a current HPV infection as the signs and symptoms are often not recognizable. This makes regular screenings all the more important. Early recognition of unusual growths or sores that won’t heal beyond two weeks is key to reducing damage and increasing quality of life after an oral cancer experience. At Mountain Family Health Centers, we perform an oral, head and neck screening (visual and manual) at each routine dental examination appointment. To learn more about our dental, medical and behavioral (mental) health services, call 970-945-2840 or go to www.mountainfamily.org.