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CE course highlights oral health community's role in HPV vaccinations

September 07, 2019

By Kimber Solana

Photo of Dr. Villa
Education: Dr. Alessandro Villa discusses the importance of human papillomavirus vaccines Friday. Photo by EZ Event Photography
Sometimes, all it takes is a poster.

"Data shows that if we put a little poster about [human papillomavirus], its association with oral cancer and about the HPV vaccine in our waiting rooms, that on its own has the ability to help start the conversation when the patient sits on the dental chair," said Dr. Alessandro Villa, of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

It's among the ways dentists can play a role in screening for oral cancer in patients and to encourage them to get the HPV vaccine, said Dr. Villa, who presented the continuing education course on HPV Vaccination and the Oral Health Care Community to about 90 attendees Friday.

Considering there are more than 34,000 new HPV-related cancer diagnoses made every year in the U.S. — with oral cancer the most prevalent cancer caused by HPV infection — health care providers, including dentists, have a big part to play.

"Last year, only 51% completed all the required doses for the HPV vaccine," Dr. Villa said. "So there is still a lot of work to be done."

Part of this work is to follow a policy the ADA adopted in 2018 that urges dentists to support the use and administration of the HPV vaccine, recognizing it as a way to help prevent infection of the types of HPV associated with oropharyngeal cancer.

The vaccine could prevent nearly 90% of HPV-related cancers in the U.S.

"Us as providers, including pediatricians and primary care physicians, do not recommend this vaccine," Dr. Villa said, adding that needs to change. "But data shows, as dental providers, we are willing to incorporate HPV in the discussions with our patients."

Dr. Villa encouraged dentists to routinely look for signs and symptoms of HPV-associated oropharyngeal carcinoma in the patients through extraoral examinations.