When your patients come in for a cleaning, conversations can range anywhere from the weather to family goings on, right? But what if we turned our focus to something more serious?

It’s time that dentists start talking to their patients about the Human Papillomavirus or HPV. To date, it is one of the most common and most prevalent sexually transmitted infections (STI). Sexual health is not something commonly discussed in a dentist’s office, but maybe it’s time for that to change?

HPV is among one of the leading causes of oropharyngeal cancers. This means that HPV can affect your tongue, tonsils, and pharynx which makes it our business. According to an article in the Tampa Bay Times, “Nearly 80 million people — or about one in four — are currently infected with HPV in the U.S, [and] About 14 million people become infected each year, and 30,700 of those cases cause cancer in men and women.”

HPV is spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex with someone who has the virus, which is what makes it an STI. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it’s one that needs to happen, and those in the dental field are uniquely situated to combat HPV from both ends of the spectrum.

Young patients, between the ages of 11 and 26 are at the highest risk for the virus. Dentists can speak to their patients and patients’ families about proper preventative care, including the HPV vaccine, whereas, older patients, who may already be affected and not know it, can be more aware of the risks that the disease poses if left unchecked.