Regular cancer screenings should be a part of everyone’s health agenda. Early detection and prevention are essential to leading a cancer-free life.
There are several different ways to screen for cancer since it can exist throughout the body: mammograms and colonoscopies, for example. Many of these screening procedures will require a visit to a physician, but not all of them.
Did you know a trip to the dentist can also double as a cancer screening? At South Florida Dental Care, oral cancer screenings are a regular (and essential) part of our dental examinations.
What You Need to Know about Oral Cancer
When most people think about cancer, oral cancer probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But oral cancers make up about 2.5% of all cancer cases, and it is estimated that over 48,000 men and women will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. Moreover, oral cancer is predicted to take the lives of over 9,500 people this year.
What exactly is oral cancer? Essentially, it involves cancer cells that develop on the lips, mouth, tongue, or within the throat. Smoking and drinking alcohol both greatly increase your risk for oral (and many other types of) cancer, and oral cancers have also been linked to human papillomavirus (HPV), causing a recent increase in oral cancer cases among young people. Additionally, men are twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer to Watch Out For
Like many symptoms of cancer, oral cancer symptoms can sometimes be mistakenly attributed to something completely different. This is why you need the expertise of a medical professional. A dentist will be able to help you determine whether or not your symptoms are something to examine further, or are simply something caused by everyday complications.
Common symptoms include:
Bumps on Your Tongue – A lump on your tongue can feel and look a little concerning, but it may not necessarily be cancer. Irritation, recent restorations within the mouth, or chipped teeth may cause odd-looking bumps. However, like moles with skin cancer, or lumps with breast cancer, taking your concerns to a medical professional is advised in order to determine how the problem can be fixed and whether the bump(s) should be examined further.
Severe or Long-Lasting Sores – It’s very common to have sores in your mouth. Things like spicy foods or even an aggressive bout with your toothbrush can cause abrasions, burns, sores, and more. Most of the time, these sores are no cause for alarm and will heal on their own. However, if you have noticed a sore that is bleeding easily, or if it has been causing you pain for over two weeks, you should notify your dentist immediately.
Color Change of Oral Tissues – If you happen to see permanent color changes on the inside of your mouth, contact your dentist immediately. Sometimes, a dentist who is having a thorough look at the inside of your mouth will even be able to detect color changes that you cannot see from just looking in a mirror.
Difficulty While Chewing or Swallowing – If you are having trouble performing basic oral functions such as chewing, swallowing, or simply moving parts of your mouth, you should let a dentist know right away. Symptoms can also include a variety of odd or uncomfortable sensations: you may feel like there is something caught in your throat, numbness for long periods of time, and so on.
Severe Pain in One Ear – If you experience pain in one ear but are not suffering from hearing loss, the answer may be found in your throat or oral cavity.
How Does a Dentist Check for Cancer?
Checking for cancer is not painful, and can be done within a few minutes. A dentist can perform the initial stages of a cancer check simply by looking at and feeling your face, lips, mouth, tongue, oral cavity, neck, and the back of your throat. If nothing suspicious pops up, no further check will be necessary.
If there is a symptom of concern, dentists can then use digital x-rays and other forms of imaging to take a closer look. In cases that are especially concerning, a dentist may remove (or refer you to a physician to remove), part of the tissue in question and send it to a pathologist. Pathologists will be able to properly identify the cells as cancerous.
Oral Health Affects Your Overall Health
When you visit the dentist, you are not just investing in a pretty smile or filling cavities. You are receiving a checkup on the “window” to your overall health. Gum, periodontal, and other oral diseases are often linked to complications throughout the body. The longer you wait to have your symptoms checked out, the more time diseases, bacteria, and cancerous cells will have to grow and expand to other areas of the body.
Bottom line? If you don’t have a visit to the dentist on your list of medical professionals to regularly visit, you should. Contact a South Florida dentist today to make your next appointment.