Oral cancer screenings look for signs of danger early. The earlier mouth cancer is detected by a dentist, the better the chances for beating it. Research into oral cancer is ongoing. There are no conclusive methods to prevent mouth cancer entirely. The causes can vary from lifestyle choices to health complications. The best tool in the fight against oral cancer is early detection when the odds are most in your favour for fighting it.
The Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings
In the early stages, oral cancer can be painless, offering few obvious cues to its presence. For months or even years, oral cancer can spread through the oral cavity, increasing risk and compounding the challenges for treatment. An oral cancer screening can allow you to detect oral cancer early and take action to stop it from spreading, which is why oral cancer screenings are so important.
Screenings include visual and physical examinations of the mouth and oral tissues. During an oral cancer screening, your dentist will examine the:
The Signs of Oral Cancer
As oral cancers develop, they begin to exhibit signs and symptoms. Schedule a screening if you experience any of the following symptoms lasting 14 days or longer:
- Sores: Lumps or ulcers in the mouth, on the lips, or appearing anywhere on oral tissues.
- Discoloration: White or dark red patches of tissue in the mouth.
- Discomfort: Pain in the ears, lips or mouth.
- Difficulty: Challenges swallowing, chewing and speaking.
- Movement: Teeth that have started to shift or loosen.
- Hoarseness: In some cases, oral cancer affects the vocal cords, causing hoarse speech.
- Numbness: Numbness in the mouth and anywhere across the face.
Like other types of cancer, oral cancer can lead to severe complications, including death. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of detecting the signs of cancerous development early.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
Anyone can develop cancer at any age. Scientists continue to try and pinpoint the causes, but for now, the exact cause remains elusive. While oral cancer can strike anyone at any age, there are some risk factors associated with higher chances of cancer development. Risk factors related to the development of mouth cancer include:
- Heavy tobacco and alcohol use
- Human papilloma virus (HPV)
- Excessive exposure to the sun
Age also plays a role, as people over 40 are at a higher risk, especially men. Some studies suggest a poor diet may also contribute to cancer growth. It’s a good idea to consult your dentist or schedule a screening if you’re worried about your cancer risk.
How the Exam Works
Oral cancer screenings are fast, typically lasting less than 10 minutes. Many patients choose to have screenings performed alongside their annual dental examination to save time. Thorough testing involves both a visual inspection and a physical examination of the head, face, neck and oral cavity. Learn more about what to expect during an oral cancer screening below.
The Visual Examination
During the visual exam, a dentist checks for signs throughout your face, neck and oral cavity. The visual exam is much like a regular checkup, using simple tools like mirrors and tongue depressors. Visual exams look for ulcerations, discolorations, asymmetries and other abnormalities.
The Physical Examination
The physical examination involves screening for bumps or nodules in the face, jaw and neck. Other physical signs of oral cancer may include stiffness, sensitivity or swelling. Following the inspection of the supporting structures, the physical examination progresses to the oral cavity.
The oral cavity examination includes inspection of soft tissues throughout the mouth, including the lips, cheeks and gums. Other areas include the front and back of the tongue, the roof of the mouth and the tonsils.
After The Screening
In the event signs of a malignant growth are detected, your dentist may order next steps such as:
- Samples: The dentist may taking samples of the affected area for laboratory biopsy.
- Follow up: A follow-up visit allows your dentist to track changes or development in the abnormality.
- Treatment: If the biopsy is positive, your dentist will recommend a treatment plan.
Maintaining a positive attitude is an integral part of staying healthy. If treatment is necessary, we will strive to make sure you understand all your options.
Schedule an Oral Cancer Screening
A professional screening is a proactive first step in early detection. Help boost your body’s natural defences with other healthy dental habits:
- Reducing or eliminating tobacco use
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle
- Brushing and flossing regularly
- Scheduling regular screenings and dental examinations
Screenings at Alpen Dental are fast, easy and comfortable. Early detection allows for early treatment, and early treatment dramatically improves the odds of success. Spot the signs early with a screening at Alpen Dental. Call today or reach out to us online to schedule an oral cancer screening and be sure to include one alongside your next regular dental exam.