If you’re like most people, going to the dentist isn’t among your favorite pastimes. However, because dental issues tend to become progressively worse with the passage of time, regular dental checkups act as the first line of defense against conditions that may require invasive treatments in order to correct. Scheduling regular dental checkups lower your risk of developing problems such as gum disease and complications caused by tooth decay.
Most emerging dental health problems can be successfully treated while still in their early stages, and some, such as gingivitis, can even be reversed with the right course of treatment. Tooth decay can often be stopped in its tracks before it degenerates to the point where the affected teeth need to be removed.
Oral cancer screenings are another reason why you should see your dentist on a regular basis. The American Cancer Society recommends that those aged 40 and over are screened for oral cancer on an annual basis, while their younger counterparts should be screened every three years. Here’s what you need to know about oral cancer:
WHO’S AT RISK FOR ORAL CANCER
Risk factors for oral cancer include both lifestyle and hereditary components. Those who smoke or otherwise consume tobacco products are at elevated risk of developing this disease. Alcohol use is also a risk factor, with the risk increasing the more frequently the person consumes alcoholic beverages. Heavy smokers who also consume alcohol on a regular basis are about 30 times more likely to develop oral cancer than those who don’t. Other risk factors are as follows:
Men are approximately twice as likely to get oral cancer as women. This could be because men traditionally have higher rates of alcohol and tobacco usage.
Poor nutrition also plays a role in oral cancer, particularly among those who consume low amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Those who are overweight also have an elevated risk of developing oral cancer.
This type of cancer takes years to progress to detectable levels, oral cancer is more prevalent among those aged 55 and over.
Exposure to sunlight
Overexposure to UV light can increase the risk of oral cancer in the lip area, affecting those who work or otherwise spend a great deal of time outdoors.
Those with certain inherited conditions, such as fanconi anemia and dyskeratosis congenita, have an increased risk of getting oral cancer.
Studies also show that those who’ve experienced Human papillomavirus infections have higher rates of oral cancer. There is also some evidence that poor oral hygiene may contribute to an elevated risk of developing oral cancer.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING AN ORAL CANCER SCREENING
Because a comprehensive oral cancer screening is performed as part of a regular dental checkup, patients don’t need to do anything in particular to prepare for it.
During a typical oral cancer screening, Dr. Patel will visually inspect the interior of your mouth, checking for abnormalities such as white and/or red patches. After the visual inspection, Dr. Patel will use gloved fingers to physically check your oral tissues for signs of lumps or other irregularities. Your neck and chest area will also be checked.
Oral cancer screenings are not meant to provide patients with a definitive diagnosis — their purpose is to identify indications that further investigation is in order. If Dr. Patel finds suspicious lumps or skin lesions, you’ll be scheduled for additional testing.
Additional tests may involve the use of a specialized mouth rinse that causes abnormal cells to change color. Dr. Patel may also use an oral cancer screening light that works on the same principle — when it’s shined on oral tissues, any abnormal cells will appear lighter than the others.
If Dr. Patel suspects you may have oral cancer, you will be referred to specialists for more testing, including the following:
This test involves scraping a small amount of cells from the area suspected to be cancerous or pre-cancerous. The cells are then placed on a glass slide and stained with a special dye designed to highlight any abnormal cells.
A biopsy involves the removal of a small group of cells that are then sent to a lab for close examination of abnormalities.
Heavy alcohol and tobacco use are often a significant factor in the development of several types of cancer, so your specialist may order a panendoscopy to rule out the presence of multiple cancers.
HOW YOU CAN MINIMIZE YOUR PERSONAL RISK OF DEVELOPING ORAL CANCER
Preventive measures aren’t just for gum disease, tooth decay, and other garden variety dental dilemmas. Fortunately, strategies exist designed to minimize the risk of oral cancer. Those who are heavy drinkers and/or smokers can reduce their risk of several types of cancer, including oral cancer, by reducing or eliminating these behaviors. Other ways you can decrease your oral cancer risk include the following:
Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet
Produce that contains carotenoids has been found to play a role in decreasing oral cancer risks. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables contain the highest amounts of carotenoids.
Losing weight is another way to help minimize your chances of getting oral cancer. Filling your plate with carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables will help accomplish this.
Practice good oral hygiene
Practicing good oral hygiene circumvents many potential dental dilemmas, and evidence exists of a strong link between neglecting oral hygiene and elevated risk of oral cancer.
See your dentist on a regular basis
As mentioned previously, regular dental examinations are the first line of defense against oral cancer. Oral cancer is a highly treatable condition when it’s detected in its early stages, and the prognosis is even better when dental examinations lead to its detection while still in the pre-cancerous stage.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for more information on how regular dental examinations and other proactive measures can help ensure optimal whole-body health as well as promote a beautiful and functional smile.
Oral cancer is 90% curable when found early, so contact us to schedule an oral cancer exam with our office today!