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What You Need to Know About Oral Cancer

oral cancer screeningsDon't assume the painless, white spot in your mouth is nothing. It could be nothing to be concerned about—or it could be the start of something that will eventually threaten your life.

Oral Cancer kills more people nationwide than cervical or skin cancer—and it can start as an innocuous blemish or bump. Early detection is the key—oral cancer is very treatable in its early stages. Regular oral screenings during your regular dental checkups are important preventive measures–your dentist is trained to spot potentially dangerous lesions.

What Can You Expect During an Oral Exam?
Your dentist will carefully examine all areas of your mouth. About 10% of the population may have a flat, painless white or red spot or small sore. Most of these spots and sores are harmless, but some are not. Cancerous spots can look identical to harmless spots—so it's important to have a dental professional evaluate any abnormality in your mouth. If a sore has a likely cause, the dentist may treat it in-office and ask you to return for a follow-up visit.

If the origin of an oral sore is in doubt, your dentist may decide to perform a painless test, such as a brush biopsy. During a brush biopsy, your dentist will use a soft, tiny, nylon brush to scrape against lesions that don't have an apparent cause. The brush picks up cells, which your dentist transfers to a slide that's sent to a laboratory for analysis. Pathologists will analyze the cell samples and send your dentist the results of the exam.

Brush biopsies are usually reimbursable through most medical and dental insurance plans. A surgical biopsy will be recommended if your dentist notices a very suspicious lesion or if the results of your brush biopsy indicate pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. This procedure usually requires local anesthetic. Your dentist may perform the procedure, or may decide to refer you to a specialist.

Symptoms include:

  • Sore(s) that bleed easily and don't heal
  • Changes in color or texture (usually a lump, thickening or eroded area) m oral tissue
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
  • Difficulty with speaking, chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty manipulating the jaw or tongue

A good rule of thumb is to discuss any noticeable changes in the oral cavity with no apparent cause with your dentist. Preserve your oral health and peace of mind by seeing your dentist regularly.

Protecting Yourself: Things You Should Know About Oral Cancer ...

  • Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption (30+ alcoholic drinks weekly) are the primary risk factor for oral cancer.
  • Oral cancer is more likely to strike after the age of 40.
  • Smokeless tobacco and prolonged exposure to the sun (lip cancer) are also risks in developing oral cancer.
  • Oral cancer may affect these areas in the oral cavity: lips, gum tissues, cheek lining, tongue and hard or soft palate.

Studies show that a diet high in vegetables and fruits may aid in preventing the development of cancers.

Regular dental checkups increase the chance of early detection, which improves the chance of successful treatment.

Getting regular dental checkups and maintaining healthy habits may help detect and prevent oral cancer. It's important to discuss any changes in color or texture of gums, lips, mouth, hard or soft palate with your dentist no matter how unimportant they may seem to you. A dentist with whom you have an ongoing relationship records changes in your mouth over time, which makes unusual changes easier to detect.

Final Word

Your best weapons in the war against oral cancer are information and early detection and your best resource for both is your dentist.


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