During a regular dental visit, your dentist is likely to perform something called an oral cancer screening. These screenings are becoming very common during dental examinations, and they are designed to help detect oral types of cancer at an early stage. If your dentist does not offer this, you can ask for one. Most dentists are trained to do this, and here are three things to know about oral cancer and the screenings used by dentists.
What do dentists look for?
During an oral cancer screening, a dentist is likely to look inside your mouth at your gums and cheeks. He or she is also likely to lift up your tongue and look underneath it. As the dentist does this, he or she is looking for signs of cancer. There are numerous types of cancer that can affect these areas, including throat cancer and tongue cancer. Here are some of the signs that dentists look for that can indicate oral cancer:
- Strange growths in your mouth
- White spots inside your mouth
- Areas that appear black
If everything looks normal, the dentist will let you know. If the dentist sees any signs that look unusual, he or she may instruct you to go to the doctor to have a biopsy completed on the areas. A biopsy is something that involves removing a small piece of tissue from an area that looks suspicious. The tissue is then sent to a lab for examination and analysis. A biopsy can either rule out cancer after testing tissue, or it can determine that the tissue is positive for cancer.
Who is at risk for developing oral cancer?
Anyone can develop oral cancer, but there are people that are at a higher risk than others. Anyone who uses tobacco products, for example, is considered a high-risk individual for developing oral cancer. You might also be at a higher risk if you are older and have had a diet that does not contain a lot of fruits and vegetables. A person that has a sexually transmitted disease, such as human papillomavirus, may also be at a higher risk for developing oral cancer.
If you ever see or feel anything abnormal in your mouth that stays there for days or weeks, you should have it examined even if you do not feel you are at a high risk for developing oral cancer. A great way to prevent oral cancer is by stopping all tobacco use. You may also be able to prevent some types of oral cancers by caring for your mouth and teeth. You should brush your tongue each day, use fluoride toothpaste, and floss daily.
What are the symptoms of oral cancer?
If you have oral cancer, you may or may not experience any symptoms. One of the more common symptoms is developing a sore in your mouth that will not go away. Getting sores, such as canker sores, is quite common, but normal types of sores generally disappear within a couple days. Sores related to cancer do not usually go away on their own.
Another symptom of oral cancer is numbness or extreme tenderness in your lips or mouth. Some people also experience strange spots in their mouth that look red or white. If you have any of these symptoms and have not been to a dentist lately, you may want to go to have an oral cancer screening completed.
Oral cancer is treatable in many cases, but it is easier to treat when a dentist spots it early. If you have not had a dental checkup completed in the last year, call today to schedule an appointment.