Understanding the Implications of Oral HPV

July 11, 2018


A couple of months ago we began implementing a new salivary test for oral human papillomavirus infection (HPV). Now you might be wondering: “Why is my dentist concerned if I have HPV?” Or you might be thinking: “It’s none of your business if I have HPV.” These are valid concerns, as this is a new screening protocol that is likely to stir up many questions. To help allay any fears or concerns around our new screening, we’ve put together some information below, that further explains our role as dental professionals.

We’ve all heard that contracting HPV can increase a woman’s risk for cervical cancer. That’s why in 2006 it was recommended that adolescent girls (and eventually boys) receive a vaccination that prevents against the two strains of HPV (16 & 18) that are most commonly linked to cancer. Now as research has continued we are learning that HPV (most commonly strain 16) causes up to 70% of oropharyngeal cancer cases. Now before you become overly concerned, there are a few important points to understand about oral HPV:


  • There are more than 200 different strains of HPV, most of which do not cause cancer.
  • The virus often produces no symptoms, and the majority of people infected with HPV will never know it, because the immune system can clear the virus on its own.
  • According to an ongoing study, it is thought that around 26 million Americans have an HPV infection on any given day.
  • The CDC believes that up to 80% of Americans will contract an HPV infection in their lifetime.
  • Of individuals infected with high risk strains of HPV only 1% of cases will develop in to cancer.


Our salivary HPV test is performed via Oral DNALabs and you can learn more about this particular test on their website. Our protocol is to perform an initial screening at your next hygiene visit and discuss the results at your recall appointment. We recommend testing 1x/year regardless of your results. Please remember that you are only at an increased risk for oropharyngeal cancer if you have a long standing HPV infection that your body is not clearing and is also a strain that has been linked to cancer. If you do have a persistent HPV infection we will note that you are at an increased risk and may refer you to your doctor to have the oropharynx region evaluated.

As always if you have any questions, please feel free to ask your dentist or hygienist at your next visit with us!


Oral Cancer Foundation- https://oralcancerfoundation.org/understanding/hpv/hpv-oral-cancer-facts/

Centers for Disease Control- https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/basic_info/hpv_oropharyngeal.htm


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