Survey Assesses Dental Hygienists Knowledge and Practices Towards HPV

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Scientists at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in Minneapolis, Minnesota recently examined how dental hygienists discuss the link between Human Papilloma Virus and vaccines with their patients. The study, “Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices Regarding Human Papilloma Virus Communication and Vaccine Advocacy Among Minnesota Dentists and Dental Hygienists,” was published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene.

About Human Papilloma Virus

An estimated 79 million Americans have Human Papilloma Virus or HPV, making it the most common sexually transmitted infection in the country. There are over 100 different types of HPV viruses. Patients can expose themselves to HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. The infected person can also spread HPV when they do not see any visible signs on their body. Regular condom use can help lower someone’s chances of getting HPV.

Some common symptoms associated with HPV include warts and other growths that can appear on the patient’s genitals, face, neck or feet. Below are several types of warts that HPV can cause:

Flat warts: People with HPV may experience flat warts, which can manifest on their legs and face. Flat warts are easily irritated and may look like dark lesions.

Genital warts: Genital warts may also appear on people with HPV. The warts are usually small in nature and can resemble razor bumps or look like cauliflower. Male patients with HPV may experience genital warts on their scrotum or penis. Meanwhile, women who have the virus may notice genital warts along their cervix, vagina or vulva.

Plantar warts: Another type of wart that’s associated with HPV are plantar warts. This type of wart topically shows up on the patient’s feet.

Common warts: Common warts may appear as raised bumps on their hands, fingers and elbows. They may start to bleed if left untreated.

Medical professionals recommend that patients get an HPV vaccine since the virus can eventually lead to serious health issues such as cervical, vaginal, anus, or penis cancer. This is especially true for patients who do not have a strong immune system.

The University of Minnesota School of Dentistry Study

Cynthia L. Stull, RDH, MDH was the lead clinical researcher for the study. Stull is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Primary Care, Division of Dental Hygiene in the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry at the University of Minnesota. She completed the research with Scott Lunos, a professional biostatistician in the Biostatistical Design and Analysis Center, Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

Stull wanted to investigate whether dental professionals were advising patients to get HPV vaccinations. Stull and her team believed that dental providers could improve the rate of HPV vaccinations by educating patients. The purpose of the study was to understand the knowledge and attitudes of Minnesota dentists and dental hygienists when it comes to advocating vaccines and discussing how to avoid HPV infections.

The researchers decided to implement the study by administering a survey to a random sample of 750 Minnesota dentists and dental hygienists to examine their overall knowledge and attitude scores. They measured the participant’s responses by comparing their mean scores with analysis of variance (ANOVA). About 44% reported that they spent time talking with their patients about oropharyngeal cancer, while only 21% said they discussed HPV as a potential risk factor.

Stull’s research team also found that only 9% of the respondents advised their patients to get an HPV vaccination. Around 80% of the dentists and dental hygienists wanted to receive more HPV training since 35% believed they were unqualified to discuss HPV with their patients and 66% felt uncomfortable discussing a sexually transmitted infection.

In conclusion, Stull believes professional schools should try to better educate and train dental providers, so they are better prepared to talk with their patients about vaccines as this will improve public awareness about HPV and increase the vaccination rate.