While examining the inside of the mouth is already a typical part of a regular dental check-up, for many people it is also worth scheduling an appointment for an oral cancer screening. The American Cancer Society predicts that more than 53,000 people will be diagnosed with oropharyngeal or oral cavity cancer in 2020, and together…
When Would My Dentist Recommend an Oral Cancer Screening?
Oral cancer screening, x-rays, sealants, fluoride treatment, and dental cleaning are examples of preventative dental services. Read on to learn about the importance of prevention. Although these procedures are only provided once or twice a year during a dental checkup, they effectively prevent cavities, abscesses, and other oral diseases. In some cases, the dentist may recommend more regular screening for patients at high risk of certain conditions like oral cancer.
The need for oral cancer screening
Like other cancer types, the treatment for oral cancer is easier if discovered early on. In reality, for stages one and two of oral cancer, the five-year overall survival rate is typically between 70 to 90%. These percentages reduce as cancer progresses.
Cancer cells have not spread to lymph nodes or the rest of the body in the early stages, so treatment is simpler. There is a better chance of detecting and treating cancer early if patients undergo oral cancer screening during routine dental appointments.
Some patients are at higher risk of oral cancer than others, meaning the dentist may suggest more frequent screening appointments. The risk factors include:
- Old age
- Poor oral hygiene
- Poor nutrition
- Marijuana use
- Compromised immune system
- Sun exposure
- Tobacco use
- Past HPV diagnosis
Patients should also be mindful of the signs and symptoms of cancer in addition to the risk factors. Examples include thickened tissue or lumps in the oral cavity, a sore throat, chewing or swallowing problems, halitosis, patches of white or red on your cheeks or inside your mouth, weight loss, and jaw ache.
Some of these signs can be mistaken for other problems, so it is better to see a dentist for a proper diagnosis and to rule out cancer. Jaw pain, for example, may not be caused by oral cancer but bruxism or a severe cavity.
The oral cancer screening process
Oral cancer screening is a non-invasive process that takes just a few minutes. Your dentist will inspect the oral cavity and under the tongue with gloved hands and a tongue depressor to look for any patches or sores. The dentist can also feel under the skin for any lumps that are not visible.
If the dentist detects something during the initial screening, they will proceed to the next phase in the diagnostic process. While this approach does not detect all oral cancers, the dental professional will swab an area of tissue and extract cells for examination. They may ask the patient to rinse their mouth with a special mouthwash containing a dye, which will bind to abnormal cells and turn blue if any are present.
The dentist may make a referral for a biopsy, a procedure where the dentist removes a sample of tissue for further examination. Since the dentist will use a local anesthetic, the process is typically not uncomfortable.
While you wait for biopsy results, the dentist can schedule a follow-up appointment with you in a few weeks to see if the area has changed in color or shape. For more information on oral cancer screening, contact our dental office.
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