Most people already know that regular dental visits catch problems early but those routine visits might be more important than thought. Read on and find out how the signs of oral cancer may be spotted by your dentist during one of those visits.
What to Know About Oral Cancer and Dental Visits
1. This year (2020), over 50,000 people could be diagnosed with oral cancer. If caught early, oral and oropharyngeal cancer sufferers have a high rate of survival.
2. Dentists and dental hygienists are trained to look for the signs of those types of cancers when performing routine exams. It's nearly impossible for patients to see inside the mouth the way these dental professionals can using bright lights and other instruments.
3. Oral and oropharyngeal cancers can sometimes be detected by a soft tissue exam. This involves examining the soft tissue for lumps in the neck and jaw areas. Several areas of the face and neck can indicate various types of cancers including the lymph nodes, salivary glands, and more. Other, more difficult to detect signs of cancer include:
- Small patches of white or gray under or on the tongue.
- Patches of white or gray on the gums or inside of the cheeks.
- Any growths or sores on the gums, roof of the mouth, or the lips, especially those that bleed.
4. Men, smokers, and older adults may be at a higher risk of oral cancer along with those who have a family history. If you are in a high-risk group, your dentist may instruct you to perform an examination on your own between visits. To do so, you will need a small but bright penlight and a small mirror. If you can, have a friend or family member help you. Shine the light inside and examine all areas of your mouth while looking for the above signs of cancer. Be on the lookout for lumps on the outside of your jaws and neck as well.
5. Although most often found in older adults, the human papillomavirus (HPV) can also cause oral cancers in young adults and its incidence has increased in recent years.
6. If and when your dentist detects possible signs of cancer, they will refer you to a cancer specialist for further testing and evaluation. Dentists are trained in spotting the potential signs of cancer but other doctors must treat it.
Monitoring your mouth for the early signs of cancer is just one of many reasons to keep up with your regular dental appointments for cleanings and exams. Make an appointment to discuss your cancer concerns with your dentist today.