The last thing on your mind during a dental checkup is probably cancer. You’re just there to make sure you don’t have cavities and get a cleaning, right? Well, while those things are clearly important, there’s actually a lot more to your checkups. Many people don’t know that they’re automatically screened for oral cancer at these visits, and since April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a great time to find out. Keep reading below to find out why everyone (even people who don’t smoke) should be getting screened twice a year by their dentist!
What is the Prevalence of Oral Cancer?
An estimated 53,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with oral cancer each year. Risk factors include tobacco and alcohol use, HPV, a weak immune system, and excessive sun exposure on the lips. However, some people with none of these risk factors still develop oral cancer.
Here are several ways to reduce your risk:
- Give up, or never start using, tobacco in any form.
- Avoid prolonged sun exposure and wear a lip balm with sun protection.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Abstain from alcohol or limit it to one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.
- Schedule regular checkups to increase your chance of early detection.
What Is a Screening Like?
A screening takes just minutes and is done by both a hygienist and dentist. They’ll visually inspect the soft tissues in your mouth, including all the surfaces of the tongue, the lips, floor of the mouth, and back of the throat. They may also gently palpate the sides of the neck and under the throat to look for lumps, bumps, or tender areas.
Between visits, be sure to schedule an exam with a dentist if you notice any of the following:
- A sore that hasn’t healed on its own within two weeks
- A lump or bump that wasn’t there before
- A chronic sore throat
- Pain or difficulty with chewing or swallowing
- A chronic feeling that something is stuck in the throat
- Changes in your voice
There are other less serious conditions that can show up the same way, so don’t panic if you notice something. A dentist will either diagnose the issue or refer you to a specialist, but it’s important to be checked by a professional so you can take the appropriate steps.
With early detection, the survival rate is 85%-90%, in part because treatment is less invasive and more effective than it was in the past. And since screenings are done at every checkup, early detection is easier than ever!
About the Author
Dr. Frank King has been practicing dentistry for several decades and is a graduate of Creighton University Dental School. He understands how oral health is linked to the rest of the body, and always takes the time to thoroughly screen for oral cancer during every exam. If you have any questions or want to schedule a visit, he can be reached through his website.