April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Linked to Oral Cancer
By Angela C. Canfield DDS

Nearly two thirds of Americans over the age of 35 have some form of chronic gum infection, also known as periodontal disease or gingivitis. This is particularly concerning when you consider the connection between chronic gum infections and potentially life threatening diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and even some types of cancer. Additionally, every sixty minutes, a person dies from oral cancer. The disease is typically associated with long-term tobacco use, but it is becoming more frequent in young adults who have never smoked, but who may have contracted a common virus.

Besides tobacco use, the risk factors that could lead to oral cancer include DNA abnormalities or family history. But the main cause, especially in young adults who don’t smoke, is the human papillomavirus (HPV), which may be spread by sexually active people through intimate contact. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, which was once the leading cause of cancer deaths for women in the United States. Now that women routinely get PAP tests, which provide early detection of conditions that could lead to cervical cancer, those cancer rates are on the decline. In fact, these days, a person is three times more likely to die from oral cancer than cervical cancer.

To diagnose and treat periodontal infections before they have a chance to cause systematic health problems, dental professionals frequently use a diagnostic test called DNA-Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR).

This is a simple oral rinse collection that takes only thirty seconds, but allows early detection, symptom reversal and even prevention from those diseases. Salivary diagnostics helps obtain precise evidence about periodontal disease and oral HPV. This allows a more accurate diagnosis and determines the most effective treatment options.

Anyone aged 18 and older should be tested annually. It is possible to have oral infections or gum disease and have no warning signs. That is one reason why regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are very important. Good dental care at home is also essential to help keep gum disease from becoming more serious or recurring. Remember to brush your teeth twice a day, clean between your teeth daily, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular dental visits for a lifetime of healthy smiles.

Dr. Canfield is licensed by the Georgia Board of Dentistry and the National Board of Dentist. She owns and practices at two dental offices: Premier Dental Designs located in Rincon, GA, and Sandfly Family Dental in Savannah, GA.

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