HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers (OPC) are on the rise. In recent years HPV-related OPC has surpassed the HPV-related cervical cancer global burden. Dental professionals are already very involved in secondary and tertiary prevention regarding OPC with screening diagnosis and in some cases treatment. Thus far dental professionals have limited their counseling regarding OPC to tobacco and alcohol cessation. Less emphasis has been put on discussing and actively counseling patients on disease prevention which could result in reduced risk of OPC. In a recent study published in October 2019 in the Journal of Dental Education the authors aimed to “implement and assess a training module on HPV to increase dental providers’ knowledge, promote confidence in their ability to provide effective prevention interventions, and instill a positive attitude recommending HPV immunization to their patients.”1
Previous studies cited in this article found “providers’ beliefs, attitudes and practices regarding HPV were barriers to immunization.” These beliefs and attitudes contribute to poor communication and counseling of patients regarding HPV as a contributing factor to OPC and has been shown to lower HPV immunization uptake. Patients trust and look to their healthcare providers, including dental professionals for guidance on disease and disease prevention. The American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) have made statements encouraging dental professionals to educate patients and caregivers about HPV vaccine and routinely screen for OPC.
Information for this study was acquired through online surveys regarding general knowledge about HPV-related OPC and HPV vaccine. The sample was 40 junior and senior dental hygiene students at Texas A&M College of Dentistry. Both a pre-test and post-test were administered. The pre-test was administered before viewing the HPV learning module, the post-test was administered one week after viewing the HPV learning module.
When comparing the pre-test and post-test results there was a significant increase in knowledge of prevalence, disease process of HPV, HPV-related OPC, and HPV vaccine administration, safety and efficacy. Most respondents knew HPV caused cancer while fewer were knowledgeable about HPV vaccine on the pre-test. Ultimately the scores on the post-test showed the educational modules had a positive effect on the students’ knowledge regarding HPV and HPV vaccine.
The dental hygiene students that participated reported their confidence in their HPV counseling improved significantly but still had room for further improvement. Dental hygienists mainly work in clinical setting which is ideal for counseling patients on HPV prevention strategies. Providing a learning module for dental hygienists to become more confident in their knowledge and ability to counsel patients would benefit their patients by encouraging patients to take risk reducing actions such as getting vaccination and potentially lower the incidence of HPV-related OPC.
The authors report some limitations, one being the wording of a question which asked if “HPV caused oral cancer?” This may have confused the participants as HPV is linked with OPC but not with oral cancer. Additionally, limited sample size and time frame may not be a good representation of all dental hygiene students.
The authors conclude by stating, “Our study found a significant increase in dental hygiene students’ knowledge of HPV and HPV vaccine after experiencing an interactive education module. Using an education module to bolster the knowledge and confidence of oral health care providers in providing HPV and HPV vaccine education may be a viable way to improve HPV vaccine acceptance.”
- Cotter JC, Wilson KJ, Mallonee LF. Impact of HPV Immunization Training on Dental Hygiene Students’ Attitudes and Confidence Regarding HPV Preventive Education. J Dent Educ. 2020 Jan;84(1):88-93. doi: 10.21815/JDE.019.164. PMID: 31977100.