Oral cancer is a disease that affects millions of Americans. But, most of the people living with oral cancer do not know that they have the disease before it spreads because they do not make regular trips to their dentist or physician.
When it comes to their oral health, most people believe they do not need to go to the dentist because they brush their teeth regularly. However, getting examined regularly by the dentist can save a lot of lives because dentists also detect general health problems during their examinations, including oral cancer.
How your dentist can help detect oral cancer
When people go to the dentist for a dental exam, the dentist will provide a basic oral cancer exam. This involves them checking under their chin, gums, lips, tongue, cheeks and the roof of their mouths for lumps or any other symptoms. The basic test usually takes less than five minutes and can be used to detect cancer symptoms. However, it is not as comprehensive as oral cancer screening, which can be specifically requested during the examination.
If the dentist notices anything suspicious during a basic oral cancer screening, they will have the patient schedule another appointment to see if there are any changes since the last time they were there. The dentist may also recommend going for a biopsy by either sending a piece of tissue from the suspected area to a specialist or recommending a doctor who can perform the biopsy for the patient.
If the suspected tissue turns out to be nothing, the patient does not have oral cancer. If it turns out to be cancer, the patient will have a leg up because their dentist caught it early, giving them a better chance of beating the disease.
How do people get oral cancer?
There are different factors that can lead to the development of oral cancer, including:
- Smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco
- Heavy drinking
- Excessive exposure to sunlight
- 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 drinkers are also six times more likely to get oral cancer than non-drinkers. People who consume alcohol and smoke or use smokeless tobacco are advised to give up the habits to decrease their chances of getting diagnosed with oral cancer.
Can oral cancer be treated?
Yes, oral cancer can be treated the same way other forms of cancer are treated. That is with surgery to cut the growth and radiation treatment. However, a cancer patient’s chances of recovery are greatly increased if the disease is caught at an early stage. That makes going to the dentist for regular checkups very important.
Oral cancer is a very serious disease, which is why dentists check for symptoms of the disease when they examine their patients. If you want to avoid getting cancer or make sure you have a fighting chance if you are at risk, make sure you visit your dentist at least twice a year to get checked out.
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