Oral Cancer Screenings
Oral cancer screenings are an important aspect of dental exams for us here at Woodcreek Dental. Much as with many other cancers, it is important to diagnose oral cancer at its earliest stages for the best chance of quick recovery and preserving normal function. During the screening, the goal is to determine if there are lesions that could be precursors of carcinoma. It involves a visual and physical exam of the mouth cavity and connected tissues in the neck, throat, and head. This exam is typically quick and painless, thanks to the easy accessibility to the interior of the mouth.
There has been some debate among professionals as to the need for these exams. The ease and speed at which they are conducted, however, makes having these screenings a good idea, particularly if you are at a high risk of developing the condition. Low-risk patients may opt-out of the screening, but its ease and speed mean you probably will not even realize it has happened during the course of your normal dental exams. Let us look at what particular groups of people are at a high risk of developing the condition and should seek to have this exam regularly done.
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
Tobacco use is one of the biggest risk factors for cancers that affect the head and neck areas. This includes those that smoke cigars, cigarettes, pipes, chew tobacco, and inhale snuff. For those that use pipes, the parts of the mouth that touch the stem are particularly vulnerable to cancers. There is an up to 50% increase in risk associated with the chewing of tobacco and snuff. Those that are exposed to secondhand smoke are also more vulnerable.
High and frequent intake of alcohol is another risk factor, which increases when tobacco use is added to the mix. Prolonged and unprotected exposure to sunlight amongst fair-skinned increases the risk of lip cancer, and if left untreated could spread to interior parts of the mouth. Those that carry the human papillomavirus (HPV) are at an increased risk of developing oropharyngeal cancer. Poor oral hygiene and irritation from poorly fitted dentures may also contribute. A poor diet that provides insufficient vitamins, especially vitamin A, is risky. In Asia, those that chew the mild stimulant, betel nut, are at increased risk.
How Screenings Are Done
During the exam, we look at the inside of your mouth to detect any red or white patches or sores on the soft tissue. Using a gloved finger, we then probe the tissue to detect any lumps, tenderness, or other abnormalities. Any removable dental gear, such as dentures is removed to allow better examining of the gums.
The neck area is also palpated with particular attention paid to the symmetry of both sides of the neck, the condition of lymph nodes, and thyroid glands. The face, eyes, and nose are also visually checked, and palpated, for any swelling, discoloration, or ulcers. Hearing tests are done to ensure the acoustic nerve is in good shape.
If found symptoms are considered of minor concern, they will be noted and checked again on during subsequent visits. If we are concerned, a biopsy to test the cells in the lab for carcinoma may be prescribed.
Oral cancer screenings are painless but offer the potential to catch a serious condition early enough for effective treatment. To discuss further on whether you may need this exam, make an appointment with us at Woodcreek Dental at (805) 482-6389 today.