One thing dentists are doing more often is screening patients for oral cancer. Since most people don’t spend time looking inside their mouths, the routine dental examination offers an ideal—and regular—opportunity to monitor a patient’s health.
During your exam, your dentist will feel your jaw and neck, looking for lumps or tissue changes. He or she will also examine inside your mouth and throat looking for sores, changes in tissue color, and other symptoms (see below). The goal is to spot a cancer early.
If cancer is suspected, your dentist will perform further tests and/or recommend a biopsy procedure to determine if cancer is present. Using a scalpel or laser, a tissue sample will be removed and sent to a lab for review. If cancer is confirmed, your dentist will consult with you as to treatment options that could include surgery to remove cancerous growths, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
The American Cancer Society recommends having an oral screening exam at least every three years for those over age 20, and annually for those over age 40.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer refers to the uncontrolled growth of cells within the oral cavity that can damage surrounding tissue. It can include cancers of the tongue, floor or roof of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinus cavities, lips, tongue, cheeks and pharynx (throat.) Unchecked, it can cause serious health risks, and life-threatening consequences.
Often appearing as a sore in the mouth that does not go away or heal, it presents symptoms in several ways, according to WebMD:
• Changes in the tissue of the lips, gums or inside the mouth including swollen areas, thick or rough spots, or eroded areas
• Areas of velvety white or speckled red-and-white patches inside the mouth
• Unexplained bleeding, numbness, pain, tenderness
• Lumps or bumps
• Feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat
• Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue; a change in denture fit
• Change in voice, hoarseness, chronic sore throat
• Ear pain
• Dramatic weight loss
Causes of Oral Cancer
There are a number of risk factors that can lead to oral cancer, including:
• Smoking (6x more likely) or smokeless tobacco use (50X more likely)
• Excessive alcohol consumption (6x more likely)
• Oral cancer in the patient or family history
• Overexposure to the sun, especially when young
• HPV or human papillomavirus
And although you may think that you have to be a smoker or heavy drinker to get oral cancer, be aware that in 25% of cases, people do not smoke and only drink alcohol occasionally.
Visiting your dentist regularly, along with monthly self exams, will help you spot abnormalities quickly. To self exam, use a bright light and inspect your mouth, gums and lips in the mirror. Pull your cheeks out and inspect their lining; pull your tongue out and inspect all surfaces. Feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes.
We Perform Oral Cancer Screenings at EverSmile Dentistry
At EverSmile Dentistry, we make it a point to look after the dental health of all our patients, including oral cancer screenings during your routine dental exams. If you have questions about a suspected area or want to know more about screening for oral cancer, we’ll be glad to see and talk with you.
We’re located in Sterling, VA and serve patients throughout Northern Virginia. If you are looking for a dental home (we take new patients) or need to schedule an appointment, please contact our office today.