ORAL CANCER SCREENING
Regular oral exams are a crucial element of maintaining optimal oral health. These exams are designed to inspect your mouth for any signs of damage or disease, as your teeth and gums are scanned for signs of tooth decay, gum disease, and more. At National Dental East Meadow, an important part of your oral exam is an oral cancer screening.
WHAT IS ORAL CANCER?
Oral cancer, or cancer of the mouth, can strike anywhere in your mouth. This includes your tongue, cheeks, lips, gums, palate, the floor of the mouth and the back of the mouth near the entrance to the throat. It impacts many of the normal daily functions of your mouth, including eating and speaking. Oral cancer affects over 40,000 people across the United States every year and is a devastating disease. Only about half of those diagnosed with oral cancer live past five years. Early detection and treatment is key to survival.
RISK FACTORS FOR DEVELOPING ORAL CANCER
There are several different factors that can increase your likelihood of developing oral cancer. Some of these risks you have control over. Risk factors include:
- Smoking, or the use of other tobacco products (such as chewing tobacco), is one of the biggest risk factors for developing oral cancer. Approximately 90% of all oral cancer patients have been smokers in the past.
- Excessive alcohol use. Heavy drinking is also linked to oral cancer, 70% to 80% or oral cancer patients have been drinkers. Moreover, if you smoke and drink, your risk is raised exponentially.
- Your age. Older adults are more likely to develop oral cancer.
- If another member of your family has had oral cancer, you are at a greater risk.
- HPV. Certain strains of HPV raise your risk for oral cancer.
ARE THERE ANY SYMPTOMS?
During your regularly scheduled dental exams, we perform an oral cancer screening. We look inside your mouth, checking for lesions, sores and any other oddities. We also will inspect your neck and face, looking for odd swelling. There are many symptoms of oral cancer that you can be on the lookout for between visits:
- Sores that do not heal, even after a period of 2 weeks or more.
- Unusual growths in your mouth.
- Red or white patches.
- You may be having trouble chewing, swallowing or speaking.
- You might notice a change in your bite.
- If you wear dentures, you may notice a change in the way they fit.
- A numb feeling in your chin or jaw.
DIAGNOSING ORAL CANCER
Diagnosing oral cancer involves more than our visual inspection of your mouth. That inspection is only the first step. If we notice anything unusual in your mouth, then we move forward with further testing. This testing will include digital X-rays and a soft tissue biopsy. A biopsy is the best way to confirm or rule out oral cancer, and there are a few different types:
- Incisional, diagnostic biopsy.
- Excisional biopsy, where the entire (small) lesion is removed.
- Punch biopsy, which uses a special tool to remove several layers of tissue.
- Brush biopsy, which involves no incisions. Instead, a brush removes cells from the lesion for inspection under a microscope.
Part of your routine visit includes an oral cancer screening. However, oral cancer won’t wait until your next appointment to make itself known. If you notice any signs or symptoms of oral cancer, contact National Dental East Meadow right away at (516) 962-2292!