Health Literacy Approaches to Improving Communication between Dental Hygienists and Patients for HPV-Related Oral Cancer Prevention

Erika L. Thompson, Ellen M. Daley, Cheryl A. Vamos, Alice M. Horowitz, Frank A. Catalanotto, Rita D. DeBate, Laura K. Merrell, Stacey B. Griner, Coralia Vazquez-Otero, Nolan S. Kline

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Purpose: Human Papillomavirus (HPV) has been identified as a causal agent for oropharyngeal cancers, suggesting a new role for dental hygienists in HPV-related cancer prevention strategies. Health literacy assessment is an approach that can be used to understand providers' informational assets and needs for educating and discussing HPV prevention with patients. This study aimed to understand dental hygienists' level of health literacy regarding HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers.Methods: Four focus group sessions with dental hygienists (n=48) were conducted at a national conference. The constant comparison method, with a priori codes for health literacy competencies (i.e., access/understand/appraise/apply), was utilized for this qualitative study.Results: Participants mentioned a variety of modes (e.g., magazines, journals) for accessing HPV-information; however, descriptions of understanding HPV and its relationship to oropharyngeal cancer varied. Participants considered patients' personal characteristics, the dental practice environment, and professional factors to appraise HPV-related information. Additionally, participants self-described themselves as being "prevention specialists." These factors influenced how dental hygienists applied primary and secondary prevention of HPV-related care issues with their patients (e.g., education and oral-cancer screenings).Conclusions: Dental hygienists recognized the importance of HPV and oropharyngeal cancer prevention efforts, including oral-cancer screenings and promotion of the HPV vaccine. The study findings identified opportunities for intervention focusing on primary prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-45
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of dental hygiene : JDH
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • HPV+ oropharyngeal cancer
  • Health literacy
  • cancer prevention
  • health education
  • oral cancer


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