How Dental Visits Prevent Oral Cancer
Many people think of the dentist and dental hygienist as the people seen twice a year to keep teeth clean and occasionally fill cavities. However, both your dentist and hygienist can play a more important role in your health. Regular visits to your dentist’s office means a professional will be familiar with how your mouth looks when it’s healthy. This means if there is a change, your dentist will recognize it, hopefully before it becomes an irreversible problem. If you are concerned about your oral health and you believe you may be at risk for oral cancer, speak with your dentist about your risk factors and the current state of your mouth. The dental office of Dr. Frantz Backer in Jackson Heights, New York, Advanced Dentistry of New York, can answer questions and concerns you may have about oral cancer.
Oral cancers are known for having a higher morbidity rate than some other types of cancer. Even with traditional cancer treatments like radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy, there has been little improvement in the 5-year survival rate for oral cancer. Like many cancers, finding the cancer early is key to treating it. Oral cancer is often not diagnosed until the cancer is in the latter stages, making it more difficult to treat. If your dentist is familiar with your mouth and able to recognize changes, or the appearance of unusual lesions, you stand a better chance of benefiting from successful treatment.
When speaking with your dentist about detecting oral cancer, be sure he is aware of your risk factors. When you begin seeing a new dentist, you will fill out a medical history form. You can also remind your dentist if you have concerns about oral cancer because of a family history of cancer, and let your dentist know if you have smoked or used chewing tobacco, and for how long you’ve done either of these things. There is also evidence that alcohol consumption and an unhealthy diet increase your risk for cancer, so be sure your dentist is aware of your overall lifestyle and any changes that may occur to your lifestyle.
Lesions in the mouth is the most common indication there is a problem that could potentially be oral cancer. The lesions are usually white, but sometimes have a tinge of red that may further indicate cancer. As part of your biannual examination, your hygienist will look for changes in your mouth. What may be problematic for some people may be normal for you. For instance, if you frequently have canker sores, it may be common for white sores to appear in your mouth. If your hygienist sees something out of the ordinary for your mouth, she will notify your dentist who will give you a more complete examination.
Initially, the only follow-up may be continued observation of the lesion. If it disappears, it is not cancer, nor is it precancerous. During the observation phase, your medical history will also be considered. If you have a family history of cancer, or if you have a history of tobacco use, your risk for oral cancer will be considered higher. In some cases, you may visit your dentist because of a complaint about a general change in oral health, like a lump or pain in the mouth. A biopsy or referral to a cancer specialist may be the next step after your dentist completes an exam.
If you are coping with oral cancer and the treatments involved with the disease, your dentist may be able to help you feel more comfortable and improve your overall dental health. According to Dr. Backer, “In certain cases where a radical resection is necessary to remove an oral tumor, maxillo-facial prosthetics (facial restoration devices) are made to replace a portion that has been resected.” A radical resection is the removal of a section of the body, and in the case of oral cancer may include teeth, gums, tongue, or any surrounding mouth tissue that was affected by the cancerous lesion. Dr. Backer also explains, “(There are also instances when) … it is necessary to provide certain dental procedures prior to surgery to resect a tumor.”
If you have discovered a change in your mouth and you are concerned it may be a serious problem, you should speak with your dentist. An experienced dentist like Dr. Backer can help you evaluate your risk factors and determine if you are facing a serious problem.
*Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your healthcare provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with an appropriate healthcare provider.