Many people know that Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease. What many people don’t know is that a strain of HPV is the cause of oral cancer (note: not all oral cancers are caused by HPV, just a certain type). Why is this the subject of an orthodontist’s blog post? As an orthodontist, I’m committed to beautiful smiles and healthy bites, but I’m also committed to oral health and preventative medicine. Recently, I read an interesting article about changes to Gardasil, the vaccine for HPV, so I wanted to share a bit about HPV and how you can help protect your teenager.
First, a few facts about Human Papillomavirus (HPV):
- HPV is the most common STD in the US. Among sexually active people, men have a 90% probability of contracting HPV and women have an 80% probability
- HPV can cause genital warts, genital cancers, and also oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of head and neck)
- HPV type 16 is the strain linked to oropharyngeal cancers
- 7% of people have oral HPV; however only 1% of people have HPV type 16
- There is no test to find out a person’s “HPV status.” Also, there is no approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat.
The good news is that a vaccine against HPV exists and is recommended by both the Centers for Disease Control and American Cancer Society. The vaccine, Gardasil, has been available for years. It has been shown to prevent cervical and other genital cancers (note: studies have not yet been done to determine if HPV vaccines will prevent oropharyngeal cancers but it is assumed that they do).
Unfortunately, in 2016, only about 40% of girls and 20% of boys completed the vaccination process. This low vaccination rate is likely a combination of a lack of proper information about the vaccination process as well as the (former) requirement of three doses of Gardasil for full coverage.
As of October 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (CDC-ACIP) revised the guidelines for Gardasil. Now, only 2 doses are recommended and should be done before age 15. More specifically:
- The first dose should be given at age 9
- A gap of at least 6 months between doses (otherwise a third dose may be necessary)
- The second dose should be at age 11-12
Help protect your child against oral (and gential) cancer. Vaccinate for HPV. Talk to your pediatrician if you have questions about Gardasil, the HPV vaccine. Finally, here are a few resources for more information: