When most people think of a dentist, they think of teeth. While your dentist does focus on the care and health of teeth, dental offices have increasingly joined the front lines when it comes to other types of health care, too. Today, your dentist can help you spot early signs of oral cancer – and as with any cancer, the earlier you know about oral cancer, the better your treatment options are.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, about 48,000 cases of oral cancer occur in the United States every year, and they account for about 9,500 cancer deaths each year. Although studies show that patients’ best chance of surviving oral cancer is linked to early detection, oral cancer continues to be diagnosed later than many other cancers on average.
Dentists and doctors can both perform oral cancer screenings. Many dentists include oral cancer screening as part of your routine dental care, allowing you to receive screening without requiring you to make an additional appointment or extend an already-scheduled appointment.
During an oral cancer screening, your dentist examines the inside of your mouth to look for signs that might indicate cancer or lesions, such as certain types of sores or red or white patches. Your dentist may also feel the tissues in your mouth, tongue, and lips to check for lumps or other abnormal signs.
In some cases, your dentist may also use special tests to screen for oral cancer, such as asking you to rinse with a special blue dye that helps abnormal cells stand out, or shining a light in your mouth during the exam to detect changes in abnormal tissue when it’s exposed to the light.
If your dentist finds any signs that might indicate oral cancer, you may be asked to schedule a follow-up visit to recheck the questionable areas. Oral cancer is typically diagnosed with a biopsy, which takes a sample of the suspicious cells and sends it to a lab for testing. Your dentist may also refer you to a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating oral cancer, who may perform the biopsy or take other steps.
Certain factors can increase the risk of oral cancer. They include tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, a previous diagnosis of oral cancer, and a history of significant sunlight or tanning exposure, which can increase the risk of cancers that start in the lips. Your dentist may be able to provide tips on ways you can reduce your cancer risk.
As with any medical procedure, it’s important to ask your dentist any questions you have about oral cancer screening or the results of a screening. The more you know, the better prepared you are to make informed decisions about your health.
Dr. Jason Dittberner and his staff strive to help our patients achieve their best oral health. That’s why we look at more than just your teeth, and it’s also why we welcome each new patient like they’re a member of our family. To learn more about the care we provide, call our office today at 928-733-7900.