Oropharyngeal cancers related to human papillomavirus (HPV) are on the rise. Dentists may be the next group of providers participating in the prevention of HPV. The aim of this study was to assess dentists’ health literacy regarding the connection of HPV and oropharyngeal cancer.
The authors conducted 4 focus groups with dentists (N = 33) during a regional dental conference in 2016. Guided by the health literacy competencies (that is, access, understand, appraise, and apply), the authors used constant comparison methods for data analysis.
Dentists mentioned a variety of informational sources (for example, dental journals and colleagues). Knowledge about the link between HPV and oropharyngeal cancer varied among participants. Participants appraised multiple patient and practice factors when deciding to have the discussion with patients. Some dentists discussed the HPV and oropharyngeal cancer connection with patients, and most conducted secondary screenings.
Findings indicate areas for intervention, including creating awareness of trusted informational sources, as well as increasing HPV knowledge and understanding the multiple patient (for example, age) and practice (for example, open operatories) appraisal factors. Moreover, enhancing the communication skills of dentists with patients is needed to improve HPV-related cancer prevention education.
Addressing dentists’ HPV-related health literacy has the potential to improve dentists’ HPV-related prevention practices, including expanding patient education about this topic and increasing HPV vaccination knowledge, ultimately contributing to the reduction of oropharyngeal cancers.