How often does your medical doctor do a thorough examination of your mouth and surrounding structures? How often are you visiting your medical doctor in the first place for a checkup?? We know it is recommended to see your dentist ideally twice a year. It is also recommended that your dentist provides an oral cancer screening at every checkup1.
When a dentist does an oral cancer screening, they will essentially be checking to make sure there are no lumps or bumps that should not be there. They will also inspect different surfaces of the oral cavity to make sure there are no suspicious soft tissue (gums, tongue, and back the of throat) changes. During the exam, the dentist will tactfully feel around your face and neck, inspect the inside of your mouth, borders of your tongue, and check the back of your throat. It is quick, painless, and could save you big time in the long run.
If you have never heard of oral cancer, or what it looks like, I urge you to google the topic. It is not something you ever want to come face to face with, I don’t even want to put a picture of it in this blog. And the aftermath, if the cancer is not caught early, is life-changing. If your dentist does notice any suspicious lesions, they may request a biopsy of the area to rule out whether or not there is a malignancy (uncontrollable growth of cells).
Risk Factors: We have known for years now that increasing age, immunosuppression, tobacco and alcohol usage elevates your risk for oral cancers2,3,4.
Early Detection: The earlier a malignant lesion is caught, the better off you will be. The cancer commonly found in the mouth, squamous cell carcinoma, is capable of metastasizing. This means it can travel into different parts of your body, making it even harder to treat4. Another oral cancer has been linked to the Human Papilloma Virus, which could cause around 70% of oropharyngeal cancers (back of mouth and tongue cancer)6.
Signs and Symptoms: If you are not regularly visiting your dentist for check ups, you should be aware of what to look out for directly from the CDC5. If you do notice any of these changes, head to your dentist as soon as you can for further examination.
- A white or red sore that does not heal on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth.
- Swelling in the jaw.
- Unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth.
- A lump or thickening.
- Problems with dentures.
- Trouble breathing or speaking.
- A lump or thickening.
- Trouble chewing or swallowing food.
- A feeling that something is caught in the throat.
- Pain in the throat that won’t go away.
To Summarize: Whether or not you are at risk for oral cancer, it is beyond wise to continue seeing your dentist for regular check ups. If you are not seeing your dentist regularly, understand the risks and the signs of oral cancer and get to a dentist if you have any concerns. The earlier the detection of a malignancy the better the potential of the outcome.
- American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. “Head and Neck Cancer Screening and Prevention Position Paper.” http://www.aaomfs.org, 2020.
- Chi AC, Day TA, Neville BW. Oral cavity and oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma – an update. CA Cancer J Clin 2015;65(5):401-21.
- Hashibe M, Brennan P, Benhamou S, et al. Alcohol drinking in never users of tobacco, cigarette smoking in never drinkers, and the risk of head and neck cancer: pooled analysis in the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology Consortium. J Natl Cancer Inst 2007;99(10):777-89.
- Siegel RL, Miller KD, Jemal A. Cancer statistics, 2017. CA Cancer J Clin. 2017;67(1):7-30.
- “Head and Neck Cancers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Oct. 2020, http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/headneck/index.htm.
- HPV and Oropharyngeal Cancer. (2020, September 03). Retrieved February 17, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/basic_info/hpv_oropharyngeal.htm
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