Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Importance of Oral Cancer Screening

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, nearly 8,000 deaths a year are caused by cancer of the mouth and pharynx, the cavity behind the nose and mouth that connects to the esophagus. Tragically, many of these deaths could be prevented with a simple, painless 5 minute screening by a dentist.

Certain individuals are especially vulnerable to mouth and throat cancer, including tobacco users, heavy drinkers and those with a family history of oral cancer. Even if none of these factors apply to you, it’s crucial that you have regular oral cancer screenings because if it’s detected early, treatment can be very effective.

What to expect during an oral cancer screening

During your check-up, your dentist will examine your tongue, gums, cheek lining, lips and hard palate for any abnormal signs. He or she will palpitate your jaw and throat, and talk with you about your health history. Be sure to tell your dentist if you have a sore that won’t heal, any pain or tenderness in your mouth, or trouble chewing or swallowing.

While people over 50 with a history of tobacco or alcohol use are most at risk, researchers are finding the incidence in oral cancer is increasing in younger patients. That’s why it’s important that everyone receive regular oral cancer screenings as part of their regular dental visits.

What you can do to help prevent oral cancer

There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of oral cancer. Here are just a few:

  • Stop using tobacco, or don’t start
  • Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation, or avoid them altogether
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Protect your lips from excessive sun exposure
  • Visit your dentist regularly

Between dental visits, use a hand mirror to conduct a self-examination of your mouth. If you notice anything abnormal, such as red or grey spots or lumps on your tongue, cheeks or gums, see your dentist right away.

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