Importance of Oral Cancer Screening

  • May 27 2019

Should I ask my dentist about doing an oral cancer screening during my yearly exam?

If it feels like cancer has become an ever increasing part of all of our lives, there is a good reason for that. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), cancer is the cause for one out of every four deaths in the United States. More than 50,000 people in the U.S. develop oral cancer each year, and roughly 11,000 of those die as a result. The death rate for this particular kind of cancer has been decreasing for the last several decades, but oral cancer remains a painful and potentially deadly disease that today’s dental professionals take very seriously.

We generally equate a trip to the dentist for our regular checkup and cleaning as an effort to keep our teeth and gums free of cavities and any sort of infection. Typically, the possibility of cancer detection does not even cross our minds. Nonetheless, an experienced dentist will use that exam time to look for any signs that might indicate the presence of oral cancer.

What is Oral Cancer?

Cancer occurs in a location where the cells have started to grow in an abnormal, out of control manner. This can happen in pretty much any part of the body. Oral cancer usually refers to this type of cell growth occurring in the oral cavity and the oropharynx, where it is called oropharyngeal cancer. The particular parts of this area where cancer is most often found are:

  • Tongue
  • Tonsils
  • Oropharynx, which includes the back of the mouth, last third of the tongue, soft palate and walls of the throat
  • Gums
  • Floor of the mouth
  • Cheeks

Other less common but possible locations are the lips and the minor salivary glands

What Causes Oral Cancer?

All types of cancer are caused by a mutation to the DNA within particular cells in the body. What causes the mutation? That is a far more complicated question and the answer now appears to be different depending on the type of cancer, as well as a combination of heredity and environmental exposures. There are, however, some risk factors that researchers believe increase the likelihood of developing oral cancer. The more common of these include:

  • Tobacco use of all kinds
  • Alcohol, especially when consistently drinking more than a moderate amount
  • Prior diagnosis of oral cancer
  • Prolonged, unprotected exposure to the sun is a known risk factor for cancer of the lip
    Chewing betel quid – the CDC warns that when betel nuts, which are used by almost a tenth of the world’s population and easily obtainable from places like eBay, are combined with tobacco, there is a high risk of developing oral cancer

The more we learn about cancer the more we realize how complex it is. There is, however, one thing that applies to all different types: early detection greatly increases the odds of a good outcome. Being proactive in scheduling an appointment with your dentist if you discover something unusual, as well as keeping your regular exam appointments is crucial. Early discovery allows for easier treatment and a far better prognosis.

If you have questions about oral cancer screening or about any of our services, whether dentistry or aesthetics, Forest Hills Dentistry is dedicated to delivering the highest quality services possible. We offer the latest and most current information and services to our patients with a new state-of-the-art facility in Forest Hills, Queens. Patient comfort, individualized care and complete satisfaction are our priority.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, you are invited to use our online form by clicking here.

Categories: Oral Cancer