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Up to half the population will be infected by the human papilloma virus (HPV) at some time in their life - and in most cases the immune system fights it off.

But it can sometimes persist and lead to cancer, notably cervical cancer, which in around 90 per cent of cases is caused by HPV.

It is linked to one in 20 cancers, including throat and oral cancers, which dentists are often the first to spot during check-ups.

Basic Instinct actor Michael Douglas, 72, blamed oral sex for giving him throat cancer in 2010.

The British Dental Association is now calling for an HPV vaccination to be offered to all school children to reduce their risk of catching the disease.

Girls aged 12 to 13 are offered the jab to help protect them from cervical cancer as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.

But girls can opt out and boys are not entitled to it - leaving them at risk of catching the virus from an unvaccinated partner during oral or penetrative sex.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises health officials on immunisation, considered widening the programme to include boys.

But the move was rejected in an interim decision announced in July, denying teenage boys the potentially life-saving jab.

The BDA claims the JCVI's ruling is based on flawed and old data and poor estimates of the number of cancers caused by HPV.

The dentists' union also claims the JCVI is withholding some of the evidence they have relied upon.

The BDA said: "Data used to model sexual behaviour are out of date, and factors such as the recent introduction of dating apps may have led to significant changes in behaviour over the last few years, which have not been taken into account."

Mick Armstrong, chairman of the BDA, said: "It is shocking that 400,000 boys can be left at risk of oral cancer thanks to a decision that cannot be properly scrutinised.

"Based on the scant information the JCVI has made public, its verdict is based on false assumptions.

"Whether by accident or by design they have understated cancer risk, and completely ignored the sexual habits of the Tinder Generation.

"That choice will cost lives.

"The JCVI is failing in its duty as public body to treat all our children equally. They should not be leaving parents to reach into their own pockets to protect their sons.

"Only a gender neutral vaccination programme can offer all our children the best defence."

Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: "Evidence from around the world suggests that the risk of HPV infection in males is dramatically reduced by achieving high uptake of the HPV vaccine among girls.

"While there are some additional benefits to vaccinating both males and females, the current models indicate that extending the programme to boys in the UK, where the uptake in girls is consistently high, would not represent a good use of NHS resources."

HPV is linked to cervical, vulval, vaginal, penile, anal, head and neck cancers.

Charity HPV Action estimates the cost of extending the programme amounts to around £20million a year.