The American Dental Association recommends going to the dentist at least twice a year for dental exams, including an oral cancer screening. The exams are recommended because they help improve the patient’s oral health. They also allow their dentist to see if they have any dental problems that require treatment.
Another benefit of dental exams is the fact that they allow the dentist to check for signs of oral cancer. This is a disease that over 40,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with in 2014.
What happens an oral cancer screening?
During dental exams, dentists will give patients a basic oral cancer exam. This involves them checking under the chin and checking the gums, lips, tongue, cheeks and the roof of the mouth for lumps or any other symptoms. The basic test usually takes less than five minutes, and it is not as comprehensive as the oral cancer screening. The dentist may also ask their patient to rinse their mouth with blue dye. If unusual cells absorb the dye in the mouth, then it will be easier to notice.
If the dentist notices anything suspicious during a basic oral cancer screening, they will have the patient schedule another appointment. This is to see if anything changes since the last time they were there. The dentist may also recommend going for a biopsy. The dentist can either send a piece of tissue from the suspected area or recommend a doctor who can perform the biopsy on the patient.
To be on the safe side, patients are advised to ask their dentists to perform an oral cancer screening to make sure they do not have cancer. If the suspected tissue turns out to be nothing, the patient can rest easy knowing they do not have oral cancer. If it turns out to be cancer, there is no need to panic because the dentist caught it early, giving their patient a better chance of beating the disease.
How do you develop oral cancer?
Factors that can lead to the development of oral cancer include smoking, heavy drinking, history of cancer in the family, excessive exposure to sunlight and certain Human papillomavirus (HPV) strains. Tobacco users are six times more likely to get oral cancer than non-smokers. Users of smokeless tobacco products like dip and chewing tobacco are at an even higher risk of having cheek or gum cancer.
Heavy alcohol consumers are also six times more likely to get oral cancer than non-drinkers. Patients who consume alcohol and smoke or use smokeless tobacco are advised to give up the habits to decrease their chances of developing oral cancer.
How is oral cancer treated?
Oral cancer can be treated the same way other forms of cancer are treated, with surgery to cut the growth and radiation treatment.
Cancer is not a disease to be taken lightly. That is one of the reasons dentists perform oral cancer screenings during dental exams. If you want to be proactive and detect oral cancer early, you should visit your dentist at least twice a year and also perform a self-exam every other month.
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