Many patients rely on their dental professionals to detect tooth decay and complications with the gums (gingiva) and periodontium (the surrounding bone that supports the teeth). However, one very important facet of a dental appointment that can literally save lives is an intral- oral cancer screening. This article will address the types of oral cancer that can occur in the mouth, as well as state some of the many reasons why dentists and registered dental hygienists are the primary professionals responsible for detecting and educating patients about oral cancer prevention.
Who is Likely to Develop Oral Cancer?
While all individuals should be vigilant about receiving regular oral cancer screenings, certain populations are more at risk for developing abnormalities within the mouth. Individuals who develop oral cancers most often tend to be older than forty, and oral cancer occurs more often in men than in women. Additionally, habits such as smoking or drinking, especially when done frequently and simultaneously, can significantly increase one’s risk for developing oral cancer. If you wish to quit, your dentist or dental hygienist can provide smoking cessation counseling, and can be a guide to other resources that are available.
Where is oral cancer most common?
The most common site for oral cancer is on the tongue – specifically, at the most posterior, or back end, and along the lateral borders, or sides. Due to the fact that oral cancer is difficult to detect at this location, it is best to visit a dental professional, who with the use of a mouth mirror, gauze, and adequate lighting, is able to see cancerous lesions in these areas.
Where else can Intra-oral cancers occur?
In addition to the tongue and areas outside of the mouth, oral cancer can be found on the floor of the mouth (beneath the ventral surface, or under side of the tongue). It can also be detected in the oropharynx, the passage between the throat and the esophagus, where swallowing and breathing occur. For this reason, your dental team may ask you to swallow as they examine the very back of your throat. This is to ensure no cancerous lesions exist in areas that are normally unseen. Normal variations of the hard palate and the alveolar bone surrounding the teeth are referred to as being “exostoses.” Unlike exostoses cancers of the bone often grow larger in time, and can be detected over time during an oral cancer exam.
The Importance of Early Detection
Oral cancer accounts for a large percentage of overall cancer deaths in the United States and in other countries. As a general rule, the earlier that detection occurs, the better the prognosis is for a patient with any type of cancer inside of the mouth or on the head and neck. The best way to detect oral cancer early, and to seek treatment in a timely manner, is with regular dental check-ups. Your dental care team strives to provide you with comprehensive care, and this includes the prevention of debilitating diseases, such as cancer in the oral cavity.
For more information about oral cancer, contact Dr. Watson, your Jackson, MS dentist at Jackson Center for Smiles today.