Your Dentist is First Line of Defense Against Oral Cancer
Many people are surprised to learn that cancer screening is a typical component of one’s regular dental checkup, especially for those over the age of 40. While most dentists don’t discuss this aspect of the checkup with their patients, dental professionals are trained to spot signs of oral cancer and their exams represent the first line of diagnostic defense against the disease. Your Marco Island dental professionals are no exception, so the next time you’re getting a checkup at Island Tower Dentistry know that their health care extends beyond just your teeth and gums.
What is Oral Cancer and What are its Symptoms?
Oral cancers are grouped within the broad category of head and neck cancers, with about 90% of them consisting of squamous cell carcinomas. Oral cancers can grow on lips, tongue, gums, palates, inner cheecks, and pretty much everywhere in the mouth except the actual teeth. More than 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year, and the disease ultimately results in almost 10,000 annual deaths. While oral cancers are predominantly found in those over age 40, in recent years it is being found more often in the younger population. Researchers believe that much of this increase in younger people may be due to the spread of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which has been linked as a causative agent.
Along with checking the condition of your teeth and gums, your dental professional also looks for any abnormalities that could signify the presence of an oral cancer or other health concern. Oral cancer signs and symptoms include:
- Lumps, growths, or thickening of the skin within the mouth
- Mouth ulcers and/or sore throat resistant to healing
- Unusual swelling that won’t go away
- Unexplained bleeding
- Patchy skin inside the mouth presenting as white or red in color
- Trouble wearing dentures
- Loose teeth
- Pain when swallowing or persistent pain in the neck, tongue, jaw, and/or ears
- Dramatic weight loss (applicable to many cancers)
The presence of any of these indicators does not automatically mean that someone has oral cancer but suggests that a closer examination may be needed. If your dentist believes that the indicators need additional testing, you will likely be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, who will likely conduct a tissue biopsy and other tests to determine whether any discovered abnormalities are cancerous.
What Risk Factors Might Promote the Development of Oral Cancers?
While HPV is undergoing vigorous research to determine the extent of its link to oral cancers, the biggest known risk factor for developing oral cancers is the use of tobacco products, whether cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or chewing tobacco. Vaping, or e-cigarettes, are also likely suspect, as recent research is showing similar molecular level changes that may lead to oral cancer. Other known risk factors include:
- Heavy consumption of alcohol (especially in those who use tobacco)
- Regular chewing of betel nuts
- Family history of oral cancers
- Chronic ultraviolet exposure to the lips and face
- Prior radiation treatment to the head and neck region
- Excessive exposure to chemicals such as asbestos, sulfuric acid, and formaldehyde
- Gastro-esophageal reflux disease
Note also that being male is a risk factor of sorts, as the incidence or oral cancers in males is double that of females.
Contact Island Tower Dentistry to Learn More or Make an Appointment
If you have any questions about oral cancer, or have concerns about any conditions affecting your mouth, please don’t hesitate to bring it up with your Marco Island hygienist or dentist. To learn more about how the Island Tower team can help you maintain your oral health and screen you for oral cancers, contact us today at 239-394-1004 to make an appointment!