Every six months, most of us stop in to visit our dentist for our bi-annual checkup. During these visits, we know they’re checking our gums and teeth for developing problems. While gum disease and tooth decay probably immediately leap to mind, they’re just the start. Your dentist serves as one of the first lines of defense against oral cancer. Each of these twice-a-year visits can be potentially life-saving, so it pays not to miss them.
How Dentist’s Identify Oral Cancer
Oral cancers come in many forms, but all of them are serious if they go untreated. In some cases, oral cancer may first make its presence known as a sore or growth that doesn’t heal. These can appear on the hard and soft palate, the lips, the cheek, tongue, and the floor of the mouth. Without proper treatment, it will become life-threatening over time. This is why identifying it early and getting it treated is essential.
Just like any visit, screening for dental cancer begins with updating your medical history. This update will help the dentist know if there are new disease diagnoses or any new medications in your regimen. During this medical history review, you’ll be asked about any potential risk factors you may have for oral cancer. These include excessive alcohol consumption and smoking. Those who participate in these behaviors have a significantly higher risk of cancer. Women are half as likely to develop a case of oral cancer when compared to men. Oral cancer is rated as the sixth most common form of cancer in men.
Some symptoms that may indicate the presence of oral cancer include:
- Bumps, lumps, eroded areas, crusts, or rough spots that form on the gums, lips, or other tissues in the mouth.
- Speckled white-and-red patches in the mouth that are velvety in texture.
- Unexplained oral bleeding
- Tenderness, pain, or numbness in any part of the neck, mouth, or face
- Facial sores that are persistent over two weeks and bleed easily. It can also be present on the neck and in the mouth.
- A feeling of having something caught in the back of the throat and soreness.
- Trouble speaking, swallowing, chewing, or moving the tongue, jaw, or neck.
- Persistent hoarseness or sore throat with accompanying voice changes.
- Pain in the ears
- Changes in how your teeth come together, your “bite”
- Unexplained dramatic weight loss
If you experience symptoms like these, see a medical practitioner immediately. Lesions that do not clear up within two weeks merit immediate action. Don’t wait for your condition to become painful. Oral cancer doesn’t always present with immediate pain, so these symptoms require immediate action.
Keep Consistent With Your Twice Yearly Dental Visits
Sticking with a steady dental hygiene regimen and regular visits to your dentist can do more than protect your teeth. It can help protect your whole body’s health against a whole range of illnesses. Oral cancer is one of the most serious, but ongoing research has tied oral health challenges to other health conditions. Speak to your dentist to learn more.