The questions your dentist could be asking you at your annual examination may soon be getting a lot more complicated. Other than your tooth brushing, chewing and flossing habits, you could now be asked about your details of your sex life. Don't be alarmed – these questions can save your life. Your dentist may ask you about your oral sex habits which could be critical to the prevention of oropharyngeal, throat, tonsils and tongue cancers.

Frank discussions with patients

A recent study in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that many dentists were not having frank discussions with their patients concerning the risk of cancer caused by the papillomavirus (Hpv) that is spread through oral sex.

While most dentists did screen for oropharyngeal cancer, many did not discuss the risk factors. The study also found that by the time most dentists spoke to patients about cancer they already had it or symptoms of it. This meant that patients were not benefiting from information that would help them to understand risks and the prevention of these cancers. These types of discussions may be uncomfortable for both the patient and dentist but could save lives.

The growth of oropharyngeal cancer

Oropharyngeal cancer cases have grown significantly in the last two decades. A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that there was a 50% increase in HPV related oropharyngeal cancers between 2000 and 2012.

While doctors and researchers were aware that specific strains of the HPV cause cervical cancer, latest data shows that one-third of such cancers in Canada can be found in the throat and mouth and are linked largely to sexual contact. This type of cancer is also on the rise in countries like the US and UK but are most common in Hungary and France.

Mandatory screenings

In light of the rise in of HPV related Oral Cancers, some experts are calling for dentists and dental hygienists to conduct regular screenings as part of a patient's regular examination. In addition to a physical exam of the throat, neck and related soft tissue, they should also ask questions about tobacco, alcohol, sexual partners and practices.

This could be the difference between life and death for many people and is the best line of defense. Dental professionals play an important role in educating their patients about the related risks factors and how they can best prevent this deadly cancer.