A visit to the dentist is never really casual. While you're most likely to get criticized for your flossing habits – or the lack of it – now there's a bigger risk involved. But it's for your own wellbeing.
Dentists are being encouraged to inquire patients about their sex life – and as prying as that sounds, the particular assessment is to figure out the risk a patient runs of developing oral cancers from HPV – the human papillomavirus, which is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases.
Also read: Even virgin men can get HPV
Dentists are now supposed to skirt about their patient's sex life and ask them about potential symptoms of oral cancer like jaw pain and swelling. However, a new report published in the Journal of the American Dental Association stresses the importance of dentists laying a more active role in detecting the disease early on.
"What we're going to find over time is that HPV is going to be a more common cause of cancer over time," Ellen Daley, a public health professor at the University of South Florida, told Daily Mail Online, adding, "We need to worry about how to prevent it."
Responsible for about 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers in the US, HPV affects more than half of American adults, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr Daley claims it's as common as the common cold.
However, it is not absolutely mandatory to ask about the patients' sex life as HPV prevention strategy. "If [dentists] want to [ask patients about their sex life], they can," Dr Daley explained. "But that's not relevant since HPV is so common. We need to get pass how it's transmitted and worry about preventing cancers."
While most dentists seem hesitant about the approach as they are concerned about patients feeling like they are being judged by their sex life, it is also to be noted that HPV has been the cause of 72 percent of the over 16,000 cases of oropharyngeal cancers — cancer of the tongue, tonsils and pharyngeal wall — between 2008 and 2012.
Also, while dentists and dental hygienists are trained to screen for oral cancers, HPV-related oral cancers are difficult to detect usually. This is because they develop in the throat at the back of the tongue, or in the folds of the tonsils, as the American Dental Association explained.
Surprisingly enough, HPV oral and oropharyngeal cancers are harder to discover than tobacco-related cancers too because the person developing it goes through no obvious symptoms whatsoever, neither do professionals could detect the symptoms early.
Also read: Want healthy teeth?
Extremely subtle and painless, HPV is transmitted through vaginal and oral sex and as per the CDC, it affects more than 79 million Americans. The non-cancerous types of HPV can even cause warts in the mouth or throat.
A persistent sore throat, earaches, enlarged lymph nodes, unexplained weight loss and painful swallowing are some of the symptoms to look out for, even though in most cases, there are basically no signs at all.
The HPV vaccine is a potentially preventive measure against HPV and HPV-related cancers and administered to children between the ages of nine and twelve in the US and the UK. For adults, condoms and dental dams are the most effective protection against the disease.