Assessing the impact of targeted continuing education training on improving dental hygienists’ HPV-related knowledge




Farris, Alexandra
Neelamegam, Malinee
Cotter, Jane
Dickinson, Charlene
Johnson, Kaeli
Kline, Nolan
Thompson, Erika
Griner, Stacey


0000-0002-4027-7544 (Neelamegam, Malinee)
0000-0002-1372-8282 (Cotter, Jane)
0000-0001-6257-7196 (Johnson, Kaeli)
0000-0002-8537-3396 (Kline, Nolan)
0000-0002-7115-0001 (Thompson, Erika)
0000-0002-2774-5841 (Griner, Stacey)

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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection in the United States and is attributable to various cancers. Approximately 70% of oropharyngeal cancer diagnoses are linked with an HPV infection. HPV vaccination is an effective prevention method that can protect against multiple high-risk strains including those directly associated with oropharyngeal cancer. Given the connection between HPV and oropharyngeal cancer and the frequency of dental visits compared to annual primary care visits, dental hygienists are uniquely positioned to help reduce the risk of HPV infection among their patients through vaccine education and promotion. The goal of this project is to evaluate the impact of a continuing education (CE) training on dental hygienists’ knowledge about HPV and the HPV vaccine.


This study used pre- and post-test survey design to collect data from dental hygienists. The CE training was presented at the Southwest Dental Conference on August 26th, 2022, in Dallas, Texas. Prior to the training, all attendees were asked to complete an online survey assessing their knowledge about HPV and the HPV vaccine. Knowledge questions included modes of transmission, types and sites of HPV-related cancers, and vaccine recommendations and indication. For example, "HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact” was asked as a true or false question. With a total of 18 questions on the knowledge scale, participants were awarded 1 point per correct answer and no points for incorrect answers. Higher averages indicated higher knowledge, with 18 being the highest possible score. Following the 45-minute CE, participants completed a second online survey assessing their knowledge. Data were analyzed in SPSS using t-tests to assess for changes from pre-test to post-test. A p-value of <0.05 was considered statistically significant.


While a total of 453 oral health providers were registered, only practicing dental hygienists (n=112) who had matched pre- and post-surveys were included in this analysis. Out of 18 items, the average number of correct responses pre-CE was 13.7 (SD=2.7), which was significantly higher following the CE (16.8 correct, SD=1.0; p<0.001). The item with the most significant knowledge increase pertained to the type of vaccine available for HPV (a virus-like particle vaccine, 39.1% pre-CE; 92.0% post-CE, p<0.001). Additional items with increases in knowledge included the various types of cancers directly linked to HPV such as anal cancer (54.9% pre-CE; 99.1% post-CE, p<0.001) and penile cancer (50.4% pre-CE; 97.3% post-CE, p<0.001).


The HPV vaccine is an FDA-approved form of cancer prevention, and the best predictor of HPV vaccination uptake is recommendation from a healthcare provider. The CE training resulted in increased knowledge regarding HPV-related cancers and the HPV vaccine, indicating a need for similar trainings that can help dental hygienists make stronger, more informed vaccination recommendations to their patients. Equipping dental hygienists with the most up-to-date knowledge, effective communication skills, and confidence to promote HPV vaccination among their patients could greatly reduce the number of missed clinical opportunities to recommend and refer for the HPV vaccine.