Dr Johnson's Blog

SEX QUESTIONS FROM YOUR DENTIST?

Joseph Coupal - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

You’ll often hear a plethora of questions at your next dental checkup, like: do you have any toothaches, or pain when you chew? Do you floss every day?

Dr. Ryne Johnson, prosthodontist at Newton Wellesley Dental Partners says that, “there may be another line of questions coming: those about your sex life. Questions about oral sex may be the key to prevention of oropharyngeal cancers of the throat, tonsils and back of the tongue, which can be caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) spread through oral sex”. But lots of dentists are falling short on the practice, a new study in the Journal of the American Dental Association suggests.

That’s what researchers discovered after holding four focus groups with dentists at a regional dental conference. While most dentists screened for oropharyngeal cancers, many fell short on actually talking to their patients about the cancer. In fact, most only talk about the cancer when they see a patient who already has symptoms of it, like a painless lump in the neck or a sore throat that doesn’t go away, according to the statement. That means lots of patients are missing out on important conversations about risk factors and prevention methods.

Barriers against asking these questions include a lack of privacy in most dental offices, plus a fear of embarrassing the patient when bringing up a pretty sensitive topic. “Given the alarming increase of HPV-attributable oropharyngeal cancers, dentists and dental hygienists may be key agents for promoting HPV prevention,” study author Ellen Daly, Ph.D., said in the statement. “However, there’s a serious need for better training and education in the dental community.”

And that’s especially true since HPV-fueled throat cancer is a growing problem: Before 1990, only 21% of Oropharyngeal cancers included the presence of HPV. After 2000, that number grew to nearly two out of every three samples, according to a meta-analysis from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. HPV can be passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact. One way HPV is spread is through sexual activity, including vaginal and anal intercourse and even oral sex.

Most people with HPV infections of the mouth and throat have no symptoms, and only a very small percentage develop oropharyngeal cancer. Oral HPV infection is more common in men than in women. In some studies, the risk of oral HPV infection was linked to certain sexual activities, such as open mouth kissing and oral-genital contact (oral sex). Smoking also increases the risk of oral HPV infection . At this time the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved a test for HPV infection of the mouth and throat.

The number of oropharyngeal cancers linked to HPV has risen dramatically over the past few decades. HPV DNA (a sign of HPV infection) is now found in about 2 out of 3 oropharyngeal cancers and in a much smaller fraction of oral cavity cancers. The reason for the rising rate of HPV-linked cancers is unclear, although some think that it could be because of changes in sexual practices in recent decades, in particular an increase in oral sex.

The researchers believe the study highlights the importance of using the dental visit as a way to educate patients about their own risk factors, what symptoms they should watch for, and what they can do to protect themselves. They hope the results encourage dentists to enhance their own communication efforts with their patients about the disease, which may play a role in reducing their risk.

So don’t be surprised if your next visit includes some questions about your oral sex life. If your dentist doesn’t bring it up, know the symptoms—mentioned above—yourself. And if you experience them, see your dentist or your doctor, stat. As for avoiding it in the first place? The HPV vaccine, which can prevent against cancer-causing strains, is usually given during adolescence, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it through age 26 for men if they meet certain criteria. Using condoms and dental dams correctly can also lower your risk.

For additional blogs by Dr. Johnson, visit: www.NewtonWellesleyDentalPartners.org or if you’d like to contact Dr. Johnson directly, CLICK HERE.

Original article: http://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical
Artwork: iStock