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Why Your Dentist Wants You to Get the HPV Vaccine

By Casandra Barnes, The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is actually a group of viruses that often infect people. Each year 14 million people are newly infected with HPV. However, most people with an HPV infection have no signs or symptoms.

Many HPV infections go away without causing problems. However, some stick around. When that happens, HPV infection increases the risk for several different types of cancer.

Doctors have recommended the HPV vaccines to protect against six different types of cancers.

HPV and Oral Health

While the rates for many cancers in the U.S. have declined, the rate of HPV-associated cancers are still rising.

Oropharyngeal cancer refers to certain head and neck cancers. These cancers can be found at the base of the tongue, the tonsils or the throat.

Seventy percent of these cancers are caused by HPV. This is one reason why dentists and other medical professionals recommend the HPV vaccine. Preventing cancer is much better than being treated for cancer.

The HPV vaccine was first developed to prevent cervical cancer. However, the benefit of the HPV vaccine is now understood to protect against 6 different types of cancer. In fact, HPV now causes more head and neck cancer than cervical cancer. This is why the HPV vaccine is important for both boys and girls to decrease their risk of HPV-associated cancers in the future.

HPV Vaccine: Success and Safety

The HPV vaccine is effective at preventing HPV infections.

And the HPV vaccine is effective at preventing HPV-associated cancers. In addition, the benefits appear to be long-lasting.

It may also be helpful to know that the vaccine is made from a protein from the virus but not the virus itself. This means the HPV vaccine cannot cause HPV infection.

More than 120 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been given with no reports of serious side effects, but some people have experienced mild side effects, the same as with any vaccine. These side effects include pain, redness or swelling in the arm where the shot is given. Some people may also feel dizzy, nauseous, faint or get a headache.

When to Vaccinate

Vaccination is most effective before exposure to the virus. This allows the body to be fully protected from the HPV virus. That is why the CDC recommends the HPV vaccine by age 11 or 12 years of age, and as early as age 9. Two doses are given when vaccination is before age 15. For those older than 15, three doses are recommended.

Talk to your dentist for more information about the HPV vaccine!

“Preventing cancer is better than treating cancer.”

References

American Cancer Society. (May 2020). HPV VACs: Vaccinate Adolescents against Cancers. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/online-documents/en/pdf/flyers/hpv-vacs-just-the-facts-for-providers.pdf.

American Dental Association. (July 2020). FDA adds oropharyngeal cancer prevention as indication for HPV vaccine: ADA policy urges dentists to support use of vaccine. Retrieved from https://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2020-archive/june/fda-adds-oropharyngeal-cancer-prevention-as-indication-for-hpv-vaccine.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (August 2019). Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (April 2019). Human Papillomavirus (HPV): HPV Vaccine Safety. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccinesafety.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (August 2019). Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Vaccinating Boys and Girls. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (March 2019). Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Reasons to Get Vaccinated. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine/six-reasons.html.

National Cancer Institute. (June 2017). HPV Vaccination Linked to Decreased Oral HPV Infections. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2017/hpv-vaccine-oral-infection.

President’s Cancer Panel. (November 2018). The Current Landscape of HPV Cancers and HPV Vaccination. Retrieved from https://prescancerpanel.cancer.gov/report/hpvupdate/HPVCancers.html.