Human Papillomavirus (HPV), is the most common sexually transmitted disease.  In fact, a whopping 79 million Americans are infected with many of those affected being in their late teens and early 20s.  As women, and as mothers, we must do all that we can to educate ourselves and our children about the dangers of HPV.

There are more than 40 strains of the human papillomavirus, which is most often contracted through vaginal, anal and oral sex.  The infected individual may never experience any symptoms and may unknowingly transmit HPV to their partner.

While the immediate effects are minimal, becoming infected with HPV can have lasting affects which can, ultimately, lead to death.  The infection is associated with certain cancers, specifically cervical cancer in women. It is, therefore, important that we do all that we can to protect ourselves.

A new study published in Cancer Prevention Research has shown that good oral hygiene can reduce the risk of contracting HPV.  Using data from the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers discovered that the participants who rated themselves poorly on oral health, including the presence of gum disease and missing teeth, were 56 percent more likely to develop an oral HPV infection.

Study author, Dr. Christine Markham, explained: “Poor oral health can create inflamed gums or ulcers, which can provide openings for the HPV virus to enter the body.”  Experts suggest flossing, using mouthwash and brushing teeth for two minutes twice daily with a soft bristled brush.

In addition to taking better care of our mouths, there are other ways we can prevent the spread of HPV. Research has shown that, since the introduction of the HPV vaccine in 2006, the rate of infection among teens has significantly dropped.

The CDC recommends that children age 11-12 receive the vaccination, but only half of all girls and even fewer boys have rolled up their sleeves.  CDC director, Tom Frieden, points to Rwanda, where more than 80 percent of girls have been vaccinated, and urges American parents to consider the vaccine. There has been some recent controversy regarding one of the Gardasil researchers speaking out, but she still believes it to be safe for most girls and women.

Regardless of person opinional, HPV is a serious infection that can lead to life-altering consequences.  As with anything, gaining knowledge can help us make informed decisions.  For more information, visit the CDC’s official page on Human Papilloma Virus.