How Does Your Dentist Help with Oral Cancer Screening?

Why a Dentist Usually Finds Oral Cancer First

There are many forms of oral cancer. Since they can spread rather quickly, you want to know about them as soon as possible. In many cases, it is the dentist who will first notice them. While many dentists automatically perform oral cancer screening, not all of them do. Be sure to check with your dentist to ensure that they take some time to look for it. 

To Screen or Not

There is some debate going on today about the value of oral cancer screening. While many say it is valuable, others do not think so. Currently, there is no evidence that it is actually saving any lives by reducing the risk. Some dentists think that it should be reserved for those patients who have a higher risk level of getting cancer of the mouth. 

The purpose of an oral cancer test is to help patients get treatment quickly. For those who go to the dentist regularly, this should enable the treatment to stop cancer while it is in its early stages. 

The importance of getting screened for oral cancer is seen in the numbers. According to Dentistry IQ, more than 43,000 people were diagnosed with oral cancer in 2014. Just in the United States, someone dies from it every hour of every day. 

When Possible Cancer Is Discovered

When a dentist believes that a patient may have mouth cancer or tongue cancer, the first thing that will happen is that further tests will be needed. These tests will help to identify the nature of the problem correctly.

The Risk Factors

  • Any kind of tobacco – no amount is safe – including smokeless tobacco. 
  • Excessive use of alcohol – The CDC considers heavy drinking is two drinks per day for men on average, and an average of one per day for women.
  • History of a lot of exposure to the sun – can lead to lip cancer.
  • A previous diagnosis of oral cancer – increases the likelihood of getting it again. 
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) – can lead to oral cancer in some people.
  • Not eating enough fruits and vegetables – this weakens your immune system which makes it unable to fight cancer. 

What to Expect During a Screening

During the oral cancer screening, the dentist will examine the insides of your mouth and your tongue. It is also likely that they will feel your neck and throat for swelling of your lymph nodes – which is often the first sign of throat cancer. 

Recently, some new devices have been produced which can help the dentist identify possible mouth cancer problem areas. They include dyes, lights, and other devices. 

When Something Is Discovered

If the dentist should find anything suspicious, they cannot make a diagnosis on the spot. The only way it can be determined if a lesion or other spot is cancerous is to send a biopsy off to a lab for an analysis. If the dentist is not sure of it, you may be asked to return in a couple of weeks to see if it has healed. It is also possible that you may be referred to another dentist for a second opinion. 

In most cases, the presence of abnormal tissues is not cancerous. A number of patients display various types of sores which often have other causes. 

Oral Cancer Symptoms

When you start to develop oral cancer, there are going to be some symptoms. These include:

  • Tongue pain
  • A bleeding sore
  • A sore that will not heal
  • Difficulty or pain in chewing or swallowing
  • An ongoing sore throat
  • Loose teeth or dentures
  • A growth, thickening of the lining of your mouth, or lump. 

When to See a Dentist

Because sores in your mouth are rather common, you do not want to go have it checked immediately. Instead, wait about two weeks to see if the symptoms disappear or become healed. If they are still present, make an appointment with your dentist.

Oral Cancer Causes

Cancer in the mouth starts out because of changes in the DNA in the cells involved. Cigarette smoke is the most likely culprit, but not always. The cells will then start to multiply at some point. Normally, when this happens, your own body’s defenses would destroy the cells, but the changed DNA somehow enables them to survive. Part of the problem may also be a weakened immune system. 

If you live in the Carrollton, Dallas, Cedar Hill or Grapevine, TX areas, you can get oral cancer screening from Dr. Kumar T. Vadivel, DDS, FDS RCS, MS, a Board-certified periodontist. To make an appointment, or to learn more about his dental services, call his office today at (214) 731-0123.