Is Your Dentist Screening You For Oral Cancer?

Chances are that in your lifetime, you will know someone close to you who is diagnosed with cancer, or you may even have a scare yourself. And while in 2010, medical advancements make it possible to treat some cancers so that patients can continue their lives, it doesn’t make the condition any less serious. What’s worse is that cancer can strike anyone, anywhere, from your skin to your lungs to even your mouth.

At Surprise Dental and Denture in Surprise, AZ, dentist Jason Melashenko says that screening for oral cancer should be an active part of every person’s oral health routine.

What causes oral cancer?

Obviously, he explains, smoking increases your chance of getting oral cancer. And while cigarettes are very harmful, Dr. Melashenko says, this really includes smoking anything, including pipes, herbs, and cigars.

What’s also alarming is the link that dentists and other medical professionals have found between oral cancer and heart and kidney diseases. It has been documented and researched that gum disease and your oral health play a role in your overall health, including your susceptibility to diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular problems, but this new connection takes that realization even further. Dentists aren’t sure quite yet why there is a link between cardiovascular problems and oral cancer, but it’s definitely something for your dentist to keep in mind.

Can oral cancer be detected?

When patients do have oral cancer, Dr. Melashenko explains, they may notice lumps and nodules inside of their mouths. Unfortunately, he adds, by the time these become apparent, it is very likely that the cancer has progressed into the later stages. Each cancer is completely different, however, and there are many different types of oral cancers. Some may be more contained, while others can be aggressive and get deep into the lymph nodes.

Is your dentist checking for oral cancer?

Typically, explains Dr. Melashenko, dentists screen for signs of oral cancer visually as part of every regular visit. They’ll be looking for questionable tissue and lumps, though again, when these signs arise, it often means the cancer has been progressing for awhile. But detecting oral cancer can be more proactive. At Surprise Dental and Denture, Dr. Melashenko says that there are early detection tests that patients can request, including VELscope. This is essentially a way to look closely at the cells in the mouth. The cancer cells, he explains, will reflect the light differently than the normal cells in the mouth. If a cluster of cells becomes illuminated during the examination, the dentist will know to test the area further before the problem has the opportunity to worsen.

What preventative measures can you take?

While there really is no way to ever prevent cancer entirely, the best thing you can do for yourself, Dr. Melashenko says, is to get these cancer screenings regularly. In fact, he thinks that everyone over the age of 35 should be getting screened yearly. While most dentists will do visual screenings, Dr. Melashenko also says that once a year, you should have a VELscope test, or at least something similar. Most dental and medical insurance plans will cover the test, but the problem may be finding a dentist who has the equipment to perform the screenings. At Surprise Dental and Denture, these tests are done yearly in conjunction with regular treatments. Though only about half of the dental offices in the country have the equipment, Dr. Melashenko says that he’s unsure why the number isn’t higher, since these tests are a great way to detect cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages.

It’s a very sad but true fact, Dr. Melashenko says, that you probably know very few people with oral cancer because it is often a very aggressive and deadly form of the disease. If your dentist isn’t already testing you for cancer, or he doesn’t seem too concerned, it may be time to switch dental offices to somewhere like Surprise Dental and Denture and the care of Dr. Melashenko.

*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.

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