Saving Lives Through Dentistry
Your dentist may be the best line of defense when oral cancer is in question. Whether or not you’re aware of it, part of your routine examination at your dentist’s office is a cancer check. When your dentist asks you to say “AHHHH”, he is looking into your throat for any abnormalities. Additionally, when you move your tongue around your dentist is looking for cancerous abnormalities around, under and on the sides of the tongue. Same goes for that nice neck massage you receive with cold gloved hands: checking for lumps in the passageways that could be indicative of a much more serious health issue.
Oral cancer screening is a routine examination performed at your dentist’s or doctor’s office. Screening for signs of cancer or precancerous conditions at least yearly keeps you informed of your health. An early diagnosis could be the difference of life and death, and you, as a patient, are probably not even aware that a screening is happening. If abnormal looking cells are found, then your dentist might order more tests to be done. Some argue the necessity of a screening but most dentists perform them routinely for your own benefit. Consequently, if your dentist is aware of risk factors that may increase your chance of oral cancer, they might screen more in-depth or more frequently.
As with any cancer, engaging in risky health habits increase your likelihood of contracting oral cancer. Tobacco use of any kind, which includes: cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, hookah, and many others – increase that risk exponentially. Heavy drinkers or alcohol abusers also suffer heightened risk of contracting cancer. Even a history of significant sun exposure plays a role in increasing the likelihood that you’ll contract lip or skin cancer which can migrate or show in other areas such as your mouth or throat.
A screening isn’t the best way to determine if you do or don’t have cancer but a second set of eyes from someone who cares about you might lead to finding abnormal cells. The findings of these abnormalities gives the patient leverage in their own health. If precancerous cells have been found, more tests are probably going to be the first thing recommended. As just a simple screening can’t detect all mouth cancers, anything that looks fishy will need to be reevaluated for clarity. There is no proof that routine examinations reduce the numbers of death caused by oral cancer. But if a diagnosis is made early enough then the patient has the option to start treatment earlier, where remission is most possible.
Some dentists use special tests in the addition to the oral exam to screen. Some of these practices include having the patient rinse their mouth with a special blue dye for an exam. Abnormal cells in your mouth may take up the dye and appear blue. Shining a bright light into your mouth during an exam is another practice. The light makes healthy tissues appear dark and makes abnormal tissues appear white. None of these procedures are uncomfortable in any way for the patient.
Since most of my patients are like extended family to me, I take the time to do cancer screens on each of them. Being privileged to look into the lives of the people I treat, sometimes I’m aware of habits they’ve picked up that pose a threat to their health. This is an area I’m passionate about and I love helping people dearly, so looking out for their best interest is in my best interest as well.