​A new US study reveals that most dentists are failing to discuss HPV prevention methods with their patients because they do not know enough about HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer.

They also admit to lacking proper communication skills to discuss such a sensitive subject, especially when age is a factor.

Providing communication skills and training about HPV can assist dentists and dental hygienists in educating patients about the HPV vaccine, and recommending that patients who are adolescents and young adults (up to age 26) get the vaccine.

Dentists or dental hygienists regularly perform oropharyngeal cancer screenings – however, most only discuss it with patients who exhibit symptoms, such as a lump in the neck and sore throat.

Many participants admit the hesitation comes as dental surgeries often lack sufficient privacy and they don’t want to embarrass a patient.

The study also suggests that many in the dental community are uncertain if that conversation should happen with the adolescent patient or their parent. HPV could also be inactive for years, impacting older patients.

One study participant said: ‘I know as a professional, you really should be able to talk like that. But for me, sometimes with patients the same age as my grandpa, I find it very uncomfortable to talk with him about anything related to HPV and their sexual activity.’

HPV prevention methods are typically addressed by paediatricians, family medicine practitioners, obstetricians and gynaecologists.

Dentists and dental hygienists are seen by nearly 85% of children in the US making them another important group of health care providers to address HPV prevention.

Lead author Ellen Daley, a professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health noted addressing dentists’ HPV-related health literacy will allow them to better educate patients, ultimately contributing to the reduction of oropharyngeal cancers.