A “Routine” Dental Exam Could Save Your Life
One of the less known benefits of a truly comprehensive dental exam is early detection of oral cancer. 30,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year and 8,000 will die. The primary cause of death by oral cancer is discovery in the late stages. As with many other diseases, when oral cancer is caught early, it is curable. Most people believe that if they do not smoke they do not have to worry about oral cancer. The highest risk factors are smoking (cigarettes, cigars or pipes) and use of smokeless tobacco and frequent use of alcohol. However, the fact is that 27% of oral and head/neck cancers are detected in patients who do not smoke or drink. There are other risk factors as well. Males over 40 years of age are twice as likely to have oral cancer than females. Illnesses such as diabetes and immune compromise as well as infection with the HPV (human papilloma) virus are also risk factors. Low dietary intake of fruits and vegetables and excessive sun exposure has been shown to increase the risk of oral cancer as well.
* A sore or lesion that does not heal in 2 weeks
* Lump or thickening in the cheek
* A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil or lining of the mouth
* Difficulty chewing or swallowing
* Sore throat or feeling like something is caught in the throat
* Numbness or swelling
* An irritation from a partial or dental appliance that will not heal
A truly comprehensive and health oriented dentist will perform a dental exam that not only observes dental problems, but keeps a vigilant eye out for the systemic health of the patient, including an oral cancer exam.
A thorough oral cancer exam will be both visual and tactile and ideally upgraded with visual enhancement device such as Oral ID Light. Visual enhancement devices improve the dentist’s ability to visually detect abnormal tissue changes in the early stages. All the structures of the mouth (palate, tongue, cheeks, glands) as well as outer structures such as lip, muscles, lymph nodes and skin are examined. A conscientious dentist or hygienist will also ask about diet and smoking and alcohol use and inquire about medical and family history.
Frequent dental exams are not only about keeping your teeth and smile healthy, but also are about overall health and possibly saving your life or of someone you care about. If you or someone you know has any of the signs or symptoms weather you have a risk factor or not, you should have a comprehensive dental and oral cancer exam. Early detection saves lives. To schedule an exam call Dr. Alicia Ramos at 919-493-5714.