HOW AND WHY YOUR DENTIST SCREENS YOU FOR ORAL CANCER
Whenever you go to your dentist in Cary, NC you’re probably more concerned about them finding cavities than cancer. However, during an annual dental examination, one of the things your dentist is looking for are symptoms of oral cancer. Oral cancer includes abnormal or malignant cells in the lips, gums, tongue, soft tissues within the mouth, as well as the salivary glands, tonsils, throat, and esophagus. In this post by our team at DentalWorks – Cary Crossroads, we talk about the most common indicators of oral cancer, what puts you at greater risk of getting oral cancer, how your dentist checks for oral cancer, and also oral cancer treatments.
SIGNS OF ORAL CANCER
Indicators of oral cancer may not be obvious or painful, so it is important to get regular oral cancer checks by your dentist in Cary, NC. Some of the indicators of oral cancers that your dentist will look for are:
- PERSISTENT SORES
Recurring sores that develop on the lips or inside the mouth that don’t heal within two weeks are a symptom of oral cancer. These sores may bleed easily so it is crucial to have them checked and treated.
- RED OR WHITE SPOTS
One symptom of oral cancer is red or white patches inside the mouth, especially on the gums or tongue. These spots often have a velvety texture.
- LUMPS AND INFLAMMATION
Oral cancer can cause lumps and puffiness in your mouth and throat. During an oral cancer screening, your dentist will look for bulges in your neck and swelling in your jawbone.
- CHRONIC SORE THROAT
If you have cancer in your throat or esophagus may cause a persistent sore throat (unrelated to a cold or other illness) or a feeling that something is stuck in the back of your throat. You could also notice a change in the pitch or sound of your voice.
- DIFFICULTY MOVING YOUR TONGUE OR JAW
A tumor or lump in your jaw or mouth may make it difficult to chew, speak, or swallow. You could also feel soreness or pain when you open and close your jaw.
ORAL CANCER RISK FACTORS
Anyone can get oral cancer, but there are certain factors that may make a person more likely to have cancerous cells in their mouth, throat, and lips.
- CHEWING TOBACCO
Although smokeless or chewing tobacco is better for the health of your friends and family, dip or snuff still puts you at higher risk for oral cancer. Having the tobacco directly in your mouth increases your risk of lip, gums, and cheek cancer, in particular.
Smoking tobacco in any form (traditional cigarettes, e-cigs, cigars, and others) increases your risk of getting oral cancer. Furthermore, people who live with you or spend a great deal of time around you are at higher risk of also getting oral cancer through second-hand smoke.
Heavy drinkers (having more than 20 alcoholic drinks a week) are at higher risk of developing oral cancer. Drinking plus using tobacco significantly increases your chances of getting oral cancer.
Also linked to cervical cancer, a strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV) is now linked to oral cancer. HPV 16, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), increases your risk of developing oropharyngeal cancers in the back of the mouth, tonsils, and throat.
While almost all of your mouth is safe from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays, your lips are not. Regular, unprotected exposure to the sun and other sources of UV light (for instance, tanning beds) can cause skin cancer in the lips. To avoid skin cancer, wear sun protection (like sunscreen and hats). Search for lip balms that contain at least SPF 15 to protect your lips from burning.
ORAL CANCER SCREENING
A significant part of a yearly dental examination is the oral cancer screening. At DentalWorks – Cary Crossroads, our dental professionals perform an oral cancer screening on each of our Cary, NC patients during their exam. During this portion of the exam, your dentist will perform a visual and physical inspection of your mouth and throat to look for symptoms of oral cancer. After putting on a fresh pair of gloves, your dentist will start by checking areas inside your mouth (under your tongue, the back of your throat, your cheek lining) to look for unusual growths or spots. They will also palpate (feel) your chin, jaw, and throat to check for lumps and swelling. Even though a visual and physical exam performed correctly is usually enough to detect abnormalities, some dental practices also use oral cancer detection devices, including a blue light or mouth rinse. If your dentist is concerned, they will normally recommend you go to an oncologist for diagnosis.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR ORAL CANCER
In the event your dentist finds signs of oral cancer, they will refer you to another doctor. To identify oral cancer, the doctor will likely suggest a biopsy that examines a small number of cells from your mouth to look for cancerous cells. If you’re diagnosed with oral cancer, your health care provider will discuss your treatment options and help you develop your treatment plan.
Oral surgery could be done to remove as much of the cancerous area as possible. Depending on the location of your oral cancer, this might be a simple outpatient procedure or a longer surgery. The surgery is usually followed by radiation or chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Radiotherapy uses localized x-rays, gamma rays, electron beam, or protons to stop cancer cells from developing. The radiation treatment is aimed directly to the place affected by cancer, which limits side effects to the rest of your body.
A group of strong drugs, chemotherapy can be employed to slow the growth of cancer or destroy the cancer cells. Depending on the form of chemotherapy medication used, you may experience different side effects during your treatment cycle.
EARLY DIAGNOSIS WITH ORAL CANCER SCREENINGS
Make sure you’re going to a dentist in Cary, NC at least once a year for a dental examination that includes an oral cancer screening. At DentalWorks – Cary Crossroads our team checks every patient for signs of oral cancer during their regular visits. Early diagnosis and treatment can dramatically increase a patient’s survival rate so make sure you and your family are scheduling regular appointments for oral cancer screenings by a board-certified dentist in Cary, NC.