• Lisa Jevens

Kissing, sex and HPV can increase your chances of oral cancer


April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. If you’ve just read that and think you can ignore it because you don’t use tobacco products, it could be the kiss of death.

Smoking, chewing tobacco and heavy drinking have long been culprits behind oral cancer. Now there’s a new danger: the human papillomavirus, specifically HPV.

HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. It’s so common that nearly all men and women get it at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV is known to cause cervical cancer, and recent research shows it can cause oral cancer too.

Oral cancer is deadly because it flies under the radar. Most people would probably be shocked to learn that the death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of more “common” cancers such as cervical, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal, testicular and others. It is generally found late in its development when it is harder to cure because people aren’t regularly screened for it and don’t know what to look for.

Symptoms of oral cancer may include:

  • A sore on the lips or in the mouth that will not heal.

  • Red or white patches in the mouth.

  • Pain, tenderness or numbness on the lips or in the mouth.

  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crusty area or eroded area on the lips or in the mouth.

  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.

  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth.

  • A lump or growth in your throat or neck.

  • Cough or sore throat that will not go away.

  • Earache.

  • Trouble swallowing.

  • Hoarseness or other changes in your voice.

Finding oral cancer early can nearly double your rate of surviving it. If you’re 18 or older, you should be screened annually for oral cancer. (Start earlier if you’re a teen using tobacco products.)

Some good news about oral cancer is that it’s more easily found than many other cancers. Screenings are typically painless, noninvasive and have no side effects. Some dental offices offer free screenings during Oral Cancer Awareness Month each year.

Between dental visits, look inside your mouth regularly at home too — and not just to check if food is stuck between your teeth. Get a small mirror and really look around in there, especially under your tongue. Then you’ll be prepared to talk about any changes when you see the dentist.

If you don’t like what you see when you open your mouth, bite the bullet and make an appointment. Even if you think your problem is “just cosmetic,” things like restorative dentistry, proper dentures and periodontal work (root canals) are necessary to keep your kisser working for you well into the future.


Herald Square Dental and The Denture Center will be providing Free Oral Cancer screenings during an open house event on April 29, 2019 from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm. Please call the front desk to schedule a time that is convenient for you: 212-689-0024. Well-known for their warmth and caring in addition to the quality, precision care that is their hallmark, patients have relied on Herald Square Dental and The Denture Center for more than 40 years. When it comes to your smile and your oral health, an experienced dental team counts.


Originally published in the New York Daily News on May 7, 2019.