Dangers of Oral Cancer
Any form of cancer is caused by cells that grow uncontrollably and which begin to invade and damage the tissue surrounding them. Oral cancer is no exception and can develop as a growth in the mouth. It can affect the lips, cheeks, the roof and floor of the mouth, the tongue, sinuses, and throat. It’s a disease that can be life-threatening when not detected soon enough, but unfortunately, many of the early symptoms are easy to miss.
What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
Common signs that something might be wrong inside your mouth include any lumps or bumps, any rough spots or thickened areas in or around your mouth or noticing that the tissues inside your mouth have changed color. Sometimes changes to the cells can cause red or white patches in the mouth. Another sign is noticing your mouth is bleeding when you have no apparent injury, losing feeling in a particular area, or noticing pain or tenderness. It could feel as if you have something caught in your throat, your voice could change, or your throat might feel sore. Any pain can sometimes spread to the ears. If you wear dentures or other dental appliances, you might notice they fit slightly differently. One significant warning sign that something is wrong is if you lose weight unexpectedly.
Who Is at Risk of Oral Cancer?
Like most types of oral cancer, some people are more at risk than others, and in this case, it’s men over the age of 50. Their risk is twice as high as women. Other risk factors include a family history of cancer, being a smoker or using other tobacco products, using alcohol to excess, or have received excessive sun exposure, especially when you are younger. Exposure to the human papillomavirus is thought to be another risk factor. Despite all these risk factors, it’s crucial to realize that a quarter of all oral cancers are diagnosed in people who do not have any significant risk factors, who are non-smokers and who only have a drink occasionally. It’s estimated approximately 110 people will be diagnosed with some form of oral cancer every day in the United States. Approximately a third of those diagnosed are under the age of 55. Nobody can afford to be complacent about this disease.
How Is It Diagnosed?
If you don’t visit a dentist regularly, then it’s likely that your oral cancer will only be diagnosed when it begins to cause unpleasant symptoms. It’s part of the reason why our dentist Dr. Donald Nimz performs regular oral cancer screenings as part of your dental examination. We want to keep you safe and healthy! Like all dentists, Dr. Nimz is specifically trained in recognizing the early symptoms of oral cancer, and it’s most likely that he is the only medical professional that regularly examines the inside of your mouth. There is no need to worry, as an oral cancer screening is entirely painless. Our dentist will carefully check all the tissues inside your mouth and will get you to poke out your tongue so that the underneath can be gently checked. Dr. Nimz might also feel your neck for any lumps or bumps. In addition to visually screening your mouth, Dr. Nimz can also use a special handheld device which shines a light inside your mouth. Any areas that require closer inspection will fluoresce slightly differently compared to healthy tissues.
How Often Do I Need an Oral Cancer Screening?
Oral cancer screenings are recommended every three years for people over age 20, and annually for people over 40, but Dr. Nimz will provide oral cancer screenings based on your level of personal risk, considering any lifestyle factors and your personal and family medical history. If needed, you can have oral cancer screenings more frequently.
What Happens If Something Is Discovered?
Most times any suspicious areas will turn out to be something completely harmless, but just to make sure our dentist might take a tiny sample of cells from inside your mouth which will be sent for closer analysis. If needed, you will receive a referral to a specialist.
The good news is that regular oral cancer screenings help to detect any changes inside your mouth at an early stage when the prognosis is far better, and any treatment required will be much less invasive. In comparison, the prognosis is much less favorable when oral cancer is detected at a later stage.
What to Do to Help Reduce Your Risk of Oral Cancer
Although there is no proven way to prevent oral cancer, you can try to reduce your risk of developing this disease. It’s best not to smoke and to only drink in moderation. Make sure you eat a well-balanced diet containing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. If you are a sun-lover, then ensure you use plenty of sunscreen, and especially on your lips. Another thing you can do is to carry out a quick self-examination at least once a month.
To conduct a self-exam, find a mirror in a well-lit area and carefully examine the inside of your mouth as far as you can see. Take care to explore all the surfaces of your tongue and the floor of your mouth. Using clean fingers, feel the tissues inside your mouth and check the lymph nodes either side of your neck and just underneath your jaw. One of the advantages of doing a self-examination is that if any changes do occur inside your mouth, you are far more likely to detect them because you will know how healthy tissue should look and feel. Also, if you have any mouth ulcers or sores that don’t heal properly after a couple of weeks, then please get in touch with us here at McLoughlin Dental. We would far rather see someone who is worried but probably well, than for you to wait until things develop further. A quick dental examination will help set your mind ease, or if needed we can provide the appropriate treatment.
People frequently fail to realize that dentists do far more than merely examining your teeth and gums. It is often possible to see the first signs of general disease in the mouth and is why you shouldn’t miss your regular dental exams. If you are overdue for a checkup, contact us to arrange your visit.