Brushing and Flossing Could Cut Oral HPV Risk

Brushing twice and flossing once daily can help keep you healthy.

Brushing twice and flossing once daily can help reduce your risk of oral HPV infection.

Human papillomavirus (HPV), commonly known as the virus that causes genital warts and cervical cancer, is increasingly being recognized as a cause of infections in the throat, tongue and tonsils. In fact, the same types of HPV that infect the genital areas can infect the mouth and throat.

What is Oral or Tonsillar HPV?

HPV found in the mouth is sometimes called oral HPV. Some high risk types of HPV can cause cancers of the head and neck area, while low risk types can cause warts in the mouth or throat. In most cases, HPV infections go away on their own before they cause any health problems.

How Common is HPV?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV and nearly all sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV in their lifetime.

Studies in the U.S. have found that about 7% of people have oral HPV, but only 1% of people have the type of oral HPV that is found in oropharyngeal cancers (HPV type 16). Annually, HPV is believed to cause about 8,400 oral and oropharyngeal cancers in the U.S.

How Do People Get Oral HPV?

More research is needed to understand exactly how people get and give oral HPV infections, but since HPV is a sexually transmitted virus any skin-to-skin contact with infected genital areas could spread the virus. Oral sex with multiple partners increases the chances of infection.

What Role Does Oral Health Play in HPV Infection?

HPV infection could be linked to poor oral health, including gum disease, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. The findings showed that people who reported they had poor oral health had a 56% increase in the risk of HPV infection in the mouth and throat. Researchers noted that self-rated overall oral health was an independent risk factor for HPV, as the link did not vary regardless of whether the participant smoked or had multiple oral sex partners. Additionally, the findings showed that males who smoked cigarettes, used marijuana and participated in oral sex regularly had increased risks of oral HPV infection.

The good news is, this risk factor is modifiable. By maintaining good oral hygiene and good oral health, we can lower our risk of oral HPV infection and subsequent HPV-related cancers. In addition, research show that the HPV vaccine may also prevent oral infections.

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