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The Role of the Dental Community in Oropharyngeal Cancer Prevention Through HPV Vaccine Advocacy


As rates of human papillomavirus (HPV)–related oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) continue to rise, the dental community’s role in primary prevention efforts related to HPV vaccination will become increasingly important. The aim of this study was to assess knowledge, beliefs, practices, and perceived barriers regarding HPV and HPV vaccine advocacy within the dental community. A sample of 266 dentists and dental hygienists completed an online survey, and responses were then analyzed using frequencies of responses, t tests, chi-square tests, and Spearman’s correlations. Ninety percent of providers believe it is important to play an “active role” in their patients’ general medical care, yet only 50% believe it is their responsibility to recommend the HPV vaccine. Only 50% feel knowledgeable enough to recommend the vaccine. 78.6% of providers rarely discuss HPV vaccination with their age-appropriate patients, and 82% rarely recommend the vaccine. The two most strongly agreed-upon barriers were “parent concerns about the safety or efficacy of the vaccine” (71.6%) and “parent opposition to HPV vaccination for philosophical or religious reasons” (72.6%). Dentists were more knowledgeable about HPV vaccination and more likely to recommend the vaccine than hygienists. Higher levels of HPV-related knowledge correlated positively with beliefs and practices that support HPV vaccine advocacy. We have identified multiple opportunities for intervention aimed at increasing vaccine advocacy among oral health providers. These include clarification of role from dental professional organizations, alleviation of concerns related to perceived parental objection to the vaccine, and educational interventions targeting knowledge deficits among oral health providers.

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We would like to acknowledge Matthew F. Daley, MD of the Kaiser Permanente Colorado Institute for Health Research for allowing us to adapt his survey instrument. We would also like to thank Meredith Graves for her help with the design and execution of the study. In addition, we would like to thank Alan Howard of the University of Vermont Department of Mathematics and Statistics for his help with the statistical analysis and figure creation.

Author information




All authors contributed to the study conception and design. The survey instrument was designed by T. Luke Arnell and Collin York. Data collection and analysis were performed by all authors. The first draft of the manuscript was written by T. Luke Arnell and Collin York, and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Thomas Luke Arnell.

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This cross-sectional study was conducted at the University of Vermont College of Medicine with the approval and under the supervision of the University of Vermont Institutional Review Board. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Arnell, T.L., York, C., Nadeau, A. et al. The Role of the Dental Community in Oropharyngeal Cancer Prevention Through HPV Vaccine Advocacy. J Canc Educ 36, 299–304 (2021).

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  • Human papillomavirus
  • Human papillomavirus vaccine
  • Oropharyngeal cancer
  • Dentists
  • Dental hygienists
  • Public health
  • Cancer prevention