I’m sometimes amazed by the remarks I receive from patients after we perform a routine dental examination or a new patient evaluation that includes an oral cancer screening. “I’ve never had that done before,” or “What are you doing that for?” are some of the comments that I hear.
Although dentistry provides our patients with a multitude of services from tooth repair and periodontal (gum) therapies to pain management and aesthetic reconstruction, we must not over look the importance of a potential life saving practice that consists of an oral cancer screening.
The following information should reinforce the importance of an oral cancer screening.
Statistics: In 2008, in the U.S. alone, about 34,000 individuals will be diagnosed with oral cancer. 66% of the time these will be found as late stage III or IV disease. Low public awareness of the disease is a significant factor, but these cancers could be found at early, highly survivable stages through a simple, painless 1 minute examination by a trained dental professional or other health care provider.
Risk Factors: Research has identified a number of factors that may contribute to the development of oral cancer. The most common are the use of tobacco and alcohol. Others include poor hygiene, irritation caused by ill-fitting dentures and rough surfaces on teeth, poor nutrition, some chronic infections and combinations of these factors.
Signs and Symptoms: Unfortunately, in its early stages, oral cancer can go unnoticed. It may first look like a common ulcer, cold sore or a discoloration of tissue. Usually it involves the tissue of the lips or the tongue, floor of the mouth, cheek lining, gums, or the palate (roof of the mouth).
Fortunately, your dentist can see or feel if a lesion looks cancerous. If you have any type of lesion in your mouth, or on your lips, that doesn’t heal within two weeks, or a difficulty in swallowing for a prolonged period of time, it is very important to see your dentist right away.
If your dentist does find a suspicious lesion in your mouth, he/she might remove it, but will most likely send you to a specialist for removal and biopsy, which is a painless procedure.
Treatment: Surgical excision (removal) of the tumor is usually recommended if the tumor is small enough. Conventional therapies also provide radiation and chemotherapy. However, there are more and more alternative, holistic treatments designed to stimulate and strengthen the immune system that are being used today with surprisingly positive results. A combination of these two modalities might provide the body with its best chance for a successful outcome.
Prevention: The best preventions of oral cancer is not to use tobacco and only drink alcohol in moderation. Avoid prolonged exposure to sun or use a sunscreen on your lips. Also, don’t forget to visit your dentist every 6 months for regular check-ups.
Our standard policy includes an oral cancer screening for every new patient dental evaluation as well as all regular check-ups and teeth cleanings. The screening only takes about 60 seconds and consists of a simple visual examination for any presence of cancer.
If you’re not currently receiving this exam, please insist that your dentist add this to his protocol. It cannot and should not be ignored. You deserve this special care and it may even save your life.