Each year, between 9,000 and 10,000 people die from oral cancer, according to AAOMS. It’s a prevalent cancer, yet, it gets little attention. In the past, smokers were most likely to develop the disease. Today, it’s being seen in non-smokers with HPV, and the disease is more common in men than in women. When it comes to protecting your oral health and your life, one of the things you can do is get an oral cancer screening during oral cancer awareness month in April.
The Importance of Early Detection
When it comes to cancer, the earlier it is detected, the better, and oral cancer is no different. The five-year survival rate is much higher for individuals whose cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. A late-stage diagnosis often results in a poor prognosis for about 60 percent of the individuals, and side effects of oral cancer surgery are life-changing. They include facial disfigurement and difficulty eating and drinking.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Every individual should be aware of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer. While smoking and HPV are the two greatest risk factors, anyone can get oral cancer. If you notice that you have mouth sores that do not heal properly or recurring sores, you should talk with your dentist and get an oral health checkup. Additional signs and symptoms include:
- A change in your voice or hoarseness
- Difficulty moving the tongue
- Difficulty swallowing
- Red or white bumps or patches in your mouth
- Unexplained Mouth or Lip Pain
Ways to Self-Check for Oral Cancer
Checking your oral cavity can help you detect changes early. However, it is no substitute for getting regular oral cancer screenings. Think of this process as being similar to women who do self-checks for breast lumps.
Look inside your mouth with a mirror and flashlight if needed and check for any red or white patches. Make sure to look at the roof of your mouth, your cheeks, your gums and the top and bottom of your tongue.
Take your finger and feel around on the inside of your mouth. Do you feel any unusual bumps or lumps or tissue that appears to be thicker or coarser than the surrounding tissue? If you do, you will want to follow-up with our dentist to get an oral cancer screening.
The Oral Cancer Screening Process
The screening process for oral cancer is non-invasive and painless. During your appointment, your dentist will examine your mouth, throat, lips, and neck for any unusual bumps, lumps or sores. If something abnormal is found, a cell swab can be taken with a specialized brush or via exfoliative cytology. The brush is used to scrape cells from areas of your mouth where lesions are suspected, and the process is painless. If the exfoliative cytology test is performed, the dentist will use cotton, a brush, or another device to scrape cells from the mouth. Once the cells have been collected, the dentist uses a powerful microscope to check to see if they are abnormal. Watch Dr. Tart’s Triangle Tooth Talk to learn more about the VELscope cancer screening process.
Another test involves fluorescence staining. During this test, the individual is asked to rinse with a special fluorescent mouthwash for a few minutes. Then, the individual spits the remaining liquid into a small sink. The dentist then takes special light and shines it into the mouth. The rinse makes abnormal areas in the mouth look different than the healthy areas. If discolored areas are noticed, further tests may be needed.
April Is Oral Cancer Awareness Month
If you are worried about oral cancer or have never been screened, April is a great month to schedule an appointment with your dentist for a teeth cleaning, oral health checkup, and an oral cancer screening. A thorough checkup that includes an oral cancer screening can give you the best chance of survival if lesions or sores are detected in your mouth. A comprehensive dental checkup can detect common gum problems, like periodontal disease and gingivitis, before they result in tooth loss. By getting both at the same appointment, you are being proactive when it comes to your oral health.
Triangle Dentistry, located in Raleigh, NC, provides a state-of-the-art facility that offers exceptional general dental and specialty services guided by empathy of a patient’s needs and desires. Services range from dental crowns to veneers and whitening procedures. For further information, questions, or to schedule an appointment, contact the office at (919) 747-3608.