Vaccinations aren’t just for measles and the flu. Getting a vaccination against human papillomavirus, or HPV, is just as important, because it can help prevent oral cancer.
HPV contributes to oropharyngeal cancers, or cancers that appear in the head, neck and inside the mouth. This type of disease affects the base of the tongue, the tonsils and the walls of the pharynx, or the back of the throat. Left untreated, oral cancer can be fatal. While overall cancer rates in the U.S. are dropping, the numbers for oral and oropharyngeal cancers are increasing. This increase appears to be related to HPV, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Oncology. HPV is a risk factor for oral cancer.
Your dentist or hygienist will look for signs of oral cancer as part of a regular dental exam. Some of the symptoms your dentist or hygienist will look for include:
Be sure to tell your dentist or hygienist if you’ve noticed any of these issues, especially if they’ve persisted for longer than a week or two.
There are other oral complications of HPV, most notably mouth sores. Raised, white bumps inside the mouth may be caused by HPV and should be examined by your dentist or doctor. You may also develop canker sores, which aren’t dangerous but can make eating difficult.
The Centers for Disease Control has found that HPV vaccination helps to prevent cancer-causing infections and precancers. For this reason, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends both boys and girls receive the vaccine between the ages of 9 and 26, ideally starting at 11 or 12. The vaccine is given in three doses.
If you or your children haven’t been vaccinated against HPV, ask your primary care physician about the vaccine.
Details about HPV and its vaccine are available from several groups, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can also ask your physician for more information.
Last updated February 11, 2022
The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.