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Friday
May102013

Got Gardasil?

Our Smile Studio team at the 2013 Oral Cancer Walk

April was Oral Cancer Awareness month, and our Smile Studio team was proud to walk in support of oral cancer awareness at the Oral Cancer Foundation's 4th annual Walk for Awareness in Chattanooga.   I was happy to participate again in the free oral cancer screenings and enjoyed getting to use the Identifi screening light generously loaned by Patterson Dental.  When I got back to my office, I was pleased to verify that my new UV curing can also double as a screening light.  

Thankfully, I personally have never diagnosed oral cancer in one of my orthodontic patients (knock on wood…), but now I have a tool for screening suspicious lesions before having to send patients to have a biopsy.  

I have, unfortunately, seen oral cancer's devastating results far too many times.  Imagine not being able to chew, swallow, or talk because a big part of your jaw or tongue or throat has been cut away.  This is truly a destructive disease that has devastating effects on quality of life.

Back when I started practicing, the main candidates for oral cancer were tobacco chewers and older adults who smoked and drank alcohol heavily.  Not the type of patients typically treated in the orthodontic chair—though I’ve seen my share of teenage and young adults with suspicious lesions due to smokeless tobacco through the years.

For a while, oral cancer rates dropped, thanks to the remarkably successful national campaign against tobacco use.   I’m around smoking so little now <thank heavens!> that I can smell a smoker 20 feet away!

But now the oral cancer news is all about the rise of oral cancer in a younger, more health-conscious demographic.  And it’s specifically related to the human papilloma virus (HPV), specifically HPV-16.  HPV-16 is one of the versions known to be sexually transmitted—yep, from oral sex, but also apparently from “French” kissing.  Pretty scary, huh?

Parents, and maybe some teens, are aware of the new Gardasil vaccine, which is effective against HPV 6, 11, 16 & 18.   We’ve been hearing about how Gardasil can prevent sexually transmitted cervical cancer in girls, but there’s now a push to have boys immunized as well.  Preferably, this vaccine should be given before sexual exposure, but it’s specifically recommended for males and females between the ages of 12 & 26.  Now THAT demographic is about 80% of my practice! 

Soooo... I’m on the bandwagon!  

Parents:  Get the Gardasil vaccine for your teens!  Do it now!   Summer physicals are coming up, so make a note to ask your pediatrician and get the series started.   And since it’s a 3 shot series over 6 months, don’t wait until your teen is headed to college.   (I learned that one the hard way.) 

Young adults:  It’s not too late!  Even if you’ve possibly been exposed to HPV, you may not have contracted one of the forms Gardasil prevents.  Getting the vaccine now will protect you from contracting it from in the future!  Ask your doctor to start the series right away.

Here's a great video to watch and share with your loved ones.  Perhaps one day we’ll be able to say that HPV & HPV associated cancers are totally eradicated, like smallpox. 

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