Oral cancer includes any cancer that develops anywhere in the mouth, such as lips, gums, tongue, under the tongue, cheek lining, and roof of mouth. The Oral Cancer Foundation says about 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer each year, leading to more than 9,750 deaths.
Grouped in a category called head and neck cancers, oral cancer is important to stay on top of, and you can do this by having your dentist check your mouth whenever you go for a dental checkup. In fact, oral cancer screenings are automatically included as part of your preventative dentistry visits twice annually.
This is a very serious condition that can and should be detected as early as possible for the best possible chance of treating it.
Why Should You Get Regular Oral Cancer Screenings?
Early cancer examinations are equally as necessary, if not more so, than getting the plaque scraped off your teeth or buffing your pearly whites. Such screenings can actually save your life. Here are the top reasons why those screenings are so important:
- To establish a baseline – If you come in one visit and your dentist detects changes from the last time, action can be taken. When you have a cancer screening every six months, your dentist will be able to determine a baseline, which can prove helpful later on.
- To determine your risk factors – No one will guarantee you that you will or won’t get cancer in your lifetime. But there are always risk factors involved that you should know about. Without regular screenings, it’s hard to determine your risk level when it comes to oral cancer.
- Early detection of cancer – You get a much better chance of treating and curing oral cancer when your dentist can catch it early, as opposed to waiting until the cancer enters more advanced stages.
- To prevent mouth cancer – Screenings can determine that you don’t have cancer but they can also let you know how to prevent cancer from occurring in the future through key lifestyle changes. If you are a high-risk patient, this is especially important.
What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
Here are some of the signs of oral cancer that your dentist will be on the lookout for during your routine exam twice a year:
- Persistent sores on the face, neck or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within two weeks’ time.
- Numbness, loss of feeling, or tenderness and pain in the neck, face, or mouth.
- Unexplained mouth bleeding.
- Swelling, thickening, rough spots, lumps or bumps, crusty areas, or eroded areas on the gums and lips.
- Velvety red, white, or speckled patches in the mouth.
Additionally, tell the dentist if you are experiencing the following:
- A change in voice.
- A hoarse voice.
- A hard time speaking, chewing, swallowing, or moving your tongue or jaw.
- Ear pain.
- A feeling as if something is constantly caught in the back of the throat.
- Dramatic, unexplained weight loss.
Your dentist should know about these symptoms immediately, so always be forthcoming at these visits. It just takes a quick look to check.
What Are the Risk Factors?
There are a few risk factors for oral cancer that you should be aware of, from smoking to family history.
- Men older than 50: Males have twice the risk of contracting oral cancer as females do.
- Smoking cigarettes, pipes, and cigars: Smokers are 6x more likely than non-smokers to get oral cancers.
- Smokeless tobacco: If you dip, snuff or chew tobacco products, you are 50x more likely to develop oral cancers.
- Vaping: Those who vape are at an elevated risk of lung and oral cancers, although the risk isn’t as high as tobacco smokers.
- Family history of cancer
- Excessive early sun exposure
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Excessive alcohol consumption: Drinkers are 6x more likely to get oral cancer than non-drinkers.
Even if you don’t have any of the above risk factors, you can still get oral cancer. That’s because more than 25 percent of all oral cancers affect people who only drink alcohol occasionally or people who have never smoked.
This is why it’s so important to get twice-annual oral cancer screenings.
Book Your Oral Cancer Screening With Piedmont Oaks Dental
No need to book a special appointment to get an oral cancer screening, as our dentists check automatically when you come in for a routine cleaning. But if you notice any of the above symptoms in between regular visits, don’t hesitate to book your appointment with us at (510) 654-6523. We are located at 1345 Grand Ave. Suite 103 in Piedmont, CA and our hours are Mon – Thu 8am to 5pm and Fridays 8am to 1pm.