1. Should my child be given the HPV vaccine?

Studies show that the strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause genital warts are also associated with oral cancer and that the HPV vaccine reduces the risk of oral cancer as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that this vaccine be administered to most girls between ages 11 and 12 or that a catch-up series be administered to young women ages 13-26. In 2010, the CDC also approved use of the vaccine in boys and young men ages 9-26. Because the vaccine is approved but not necessarily recommended for this group, discuss HPV vaccination with your child's doctor (or your own).

2. Where can I find free or low-cost dental care in my community?

Ask your doctor or dentist how you can access free or low-cost dental services in your area. Some adult dental services may be covered under Medicaid in your state, and states must provide comprehensive dental care through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for children up to age 19 in eligible families. Other sources of free or low-cost dental care may include local dental schools that are conducting clinical research trials in which you're eligible to participate. Dental hygiene schools often offer free preventive services as a means of training their students. Affordable services may also be available through state and local health departments or through the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

3. How can I prevent halitosis (bad breath)?

Bad breath is usually caused by poor oral hygiene, smoking, or a dry mouth. To prevent bad breath, you should floss daily, brush your teeth twice a day, and brush your tongue too. If you wear dentures or a retainer, clean them every day. If your mouth tends to be dry, use an alcohol-free mouthwash and artificial saliva or a dry-mouth spray or gel. However, if your breath suddenly takes on an unpleasant or unusual odor, it may be a sign of a serious disorder, such as diabetes or a bowel obstruction, and you should seek medical attention immediately.

4. How does my tobacco use affect my oral health?

Tobacco and alcohol use are the key risk factors for oral cancer, which may appear in the throat or on the lips, tongue, gums, floor or roof of the mouth, or cheeks. (The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be more than 36,500 new cases of oral cancer and nearly 7,900 oral cancer-related deaths by the end of 2010.) Using smokeless tobacco, dip, or snuff is just as dangerous as smoking. In fact, these products have higher nicotine content than cigarettes. Chewing tobacco causes oral cancer and is thought to be a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. It also causes the gums to recede, leaving the roots of the teeth vulnerable to decay.

5. How does my diabetes affect my oral health?

Diabetes results in increase blood sugars that can act as food for bacteria in the mouth. Diabetes promotes overgrowth of the bacteria that abound in plaque, allowing gum disease to gain a strong foothold. Be sure your dentist knows you have diabetes, and keep up with your twice-yearly teeth cleanings. Brush and floss after meals and snacks. If you wear dentures, clean them daily and tell your dentist if they no longer fit well.