How Important are Oral Cancer Exams?
During each dental appointment, the dentist and the dental hygienist make an extra effort to screen for any signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer is a disease that occurs in the mouth or the throat. It can be found inside the lips and cheeks, the salivary glands, the gums, the tongue, the roof of the mouth, the floor of the mouth and the bone.
When performing an oral cancer screening, some of the signs and symptoms we examine for are:
- Patches of red, white, or a mixture of the two that are new or changing
- Sores on the lip that do not resolve within 14 days
- Unexplainable sores or bleeding in the mouth
You should also consult your dentist or physician if you have pain or difficulty swallowing, an abnormal lump in your neck, or an earache that does not go away.
As we try to help limit the threat of oral cancer now and in the future, we need to be aware of potential risk factors that may increase your likelihood of developing an issue. Tobacco use is the most commonly known factor, but few people that the abuse of alcohol and/or exposure to ultraviolet light are also known to be a risk factors. There are also several studies that suggest a diet that is very low in fruits and vegetables may be linked in an increase risk in cancer.
So how can we best diagnose the signs and symptoms of oral cancer? Some have easily identifiable symptoms or clinical presentations that cause us to seek immediate medical or dental attention. However, others types of oral cancer can reach a more advanced stage without manifesting as obvious signs to the patient or even the dentist. This is why it is so important to maintain regular dental check ups and x-rays. Early diagnosis is the best defense.
When an area of the mouth is identified as suspicious, we may choose to monitor the area with photographs, measurements and return visit to see if anything has changed. If are area is deemed potentially more serious, we may recommend you see a specialist for an exam and possible biopsy. And if you have a history of prolonged tobacco use or other risk factors, we will use extra caution and make sure you see the necessary specialist as quickly as possible.