April is Oral Cancer Awareness month, giving us an opportunity to share information on the important role that your dentist plays in the early detection of oral cancer.
You probably know that your dentist likes to see you every six months. That way, he or she can routinely watch for cavities and gum problems. But your dentist also is your first line of defense against something more serious: oral cancer.
Oral and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of the mouth and upper throat), together, kill nearly one person every hour of every day of the year. Of the people newly diagnosed with these cancers, 40 percent will not survive longer than five years. Many who do survive suffer long-term problems, such as severe facial disfigurement or difficulties with eating and speaking.
This death rate remains particularly high because the cancers routinely are discovered late in their development. When oral and oropharyngeal cancers are detected and treated early, mortality is greatly reduced.
Dental Visits Are Important
The American Dental Association recommends twice-a-year dental checkups so you can have your teeth cleaned professionally and get a check for early signs of tooth decay and gum issues. Many dentists also use these routine visits to check for signs of cancer.
During the cancer screening, your dentist will exam areas that are both inside and outside your mouth. “A screening exam should include an extra-oral exam of the head and neck as well as an intra-oral exam of the lips, cheeks, tongue, palate, floor of mouth and gum tissues,” says Raleigh dentist Dr. Jeff Morrison, of Jeff M. Morrison & Associates, DDS.
“We’re looking for any lumps, sores or irregular tissue changes, including discoloration. If I find anything suspicious, such as a lesion, I’ll recommend a biopsy or refer you to an oral surgeon”.
Risk factors for Older and Younger Patients
In the past, those people at an especially high risk of developing oral cancer have been heavy drinkers and smokers older than age 50. While smoking and tobacco use are still major risk factors, the fastest growing segment of oral cancer patients is young, healthy, nonsmoking individuals. The sexually transmitted human papillomavirus 16 (HPV) is related to the increasing number of cases in younger people.
Be mindful of symptoms
Be aware of the following signs and symptoms, and see your dentist if you notice any changes that do not go away in a short period of time (2-3 weeks). Here are just some of examples:
· Unexplained numbness or pain/tenderness in any area of the face, mouth or neck
· Lumps, thickening tissues, rough spots, red or white patches, or crusty areas
· Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue
· A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth
· Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
· Chronic sore throat, hoarseness or voice changes, or feeling something is caught in your throat
When it comes to symptoms, keep in mind, there is no need to wait. Visit your dentist if you have ANY concerns about changes in your mouth.
At Jeff M. Morrison & Associates, DDS, we want all our patients – young and old – to be aware of the symptoms and risk factors of oral and oropharyngeal cancer. We conduct oral cancer screenings at every exam and have identified and referred many patients with concerning symptoms for further care. Early detection and treatment may well be the key to a complete recovery. For more information or to schedule an exam, call our friendly staff at at (919) 755-3450.