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Why You Should See Your Dentist About Oral Sex

Tim Boyer's picture

As it turns out, seeing a health professional about the risk of contracting or passing a sexual disease is not limited to your primary care physician: recent news about the risk of contracting an oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infection tells us that talking to your dentist about oral sex could be a life-saving experience.

In a recent study published in an early online issue of the medical journal Cancer Prevention Research, researchers warn that your oral health could be an important factor in whether or not you develop oropharyngeal cancer from the human papillomavirus following oral sex.

This is based on the finding that oral HPV infection requires wounds in the mouth to enter and infect the oral cavity. People who have poor oral health that includes ulcers, mucosal disruption and/ or chronic inflammation and do not seek treatment, may inadvertently be increasing their risk of infection while engaging in oral sex.

Oral HPV is similar to genital HPV in that it can result in two types of infection: one type does not cause cancer, but can cause a variety of benign tumors or warts in the oral cavity. The other type can cause oropharyngeal cancer to develop.

According to the study, oral human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the cause of 40% to 80% of oropharyngeal cancers. While HPV infection is strongly correlated with oropharyngeal cancers, little has been done to understand what significance, if any, the state of a person’s oral health and hygiene practices have on HPV infection.

To address this question, researchers mined through health data collected from the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that consisted of a representative sampling of approximately 5,000 people across the United States. In a press release issued from the American Association for Cancer Research, of the 5,000 patient records analyzed, 3,439 records of patients aged 30 to 69 years old were identified that contained pertinent data on their oral health and the presence or absence of 19 low-risk HPV types and 18 high-risk HPV types.

The data consisted of health factors that can influence HPV infection such as:

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• Self-rating of overall oral health
• Presence of gum disease
• Use of mouthwash to treat dental problems within past seven days of the survey
• Number of teeth lost
• Age, gender and marital status
• Marijuana use
• Cigarette smoking
• Oral sex habits

What the researchers found was that being male, smoking cigarettes, using marijuana, and having oral sex increased the likelihood of oral HPV infection. Furthermore, the press release states that the researchers also found that self-rated overall oral health was an independent risk factor for oral HPV infection, because this association did not change regardless of whether or not the participants smoked or had multiple oral sex partners.

“Poor oral health is a new independent risk factor for oral HPV infection and, to our knowledge, this is the first study to examine this association,” said Thanh Cong Bui, a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Public Health at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston. “The good news is, this risk factor is modifiable―by maintaining good oral hygiene and good oral health, one can prevent HPV infection and subsequent HPV-related cancers.”

Bui adds that, “Although more research is needed to confirm the causal relationship between oral health and oral HPV infection, people may want to maintain good oral health for a variety of health benefits. Oral hygiene is fundamental for oral health, so good oral hygiene practices should become a personal habit.”

The take home message is that seeing your dentist and having a frank discussion about your current oral health and risk of disease from oral sex could prevent you from contracting a common and sometimes deadly disease. Aside from flossing and using a mouthwash, at least one study demonstrates that what you drink could also prevent developing oropharyngeal cancer.

For an informative article about why oral sex following a vasectomy can be bad for you, click on the link titled “Vasectomy Warning: Oral Contact is a Vector for Invasive GAS Disease.”

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: Cancer Prevention Research “Examining the Association between Oral Health and Oral HPV Infection” Published Online First August 21, 2013; Thanh Cong Bui et al.