While most people don't associate dentists with cancer care and prevention, they play an incredibly important role in detecting and treating oral cancer. Oral cancer can be deadly if it is not caught early enough. Because of this, it's important for you to know the most common early signs of oral cancer. Read on for more information about this deadly disease and how your dentist can help detect and treat it.
What Are the Early Signs of Oral Cancer?
One of the most common early signs of oral cancer is a white or red patch on your gums or on your tongue. In some cases, the patch may become a lesion and become sore and bleeding.
Unfortunately, oral cancer is sometimes less visible. Additional signs of oral cancer include difficulty chewing and swallowing or a tooth that becomes loose with no other apparent cause such as trauma. It can also manifest as a persistent sore throat or hoarseness.
However, it's important to note that many of these signs have causes other than other cancer. White or red patches in your mouth, for example, could be canker sores. It's still very important to schedule an appointment with your dentist and get tested for oral cancer if any of these symptoms persist for more than two weeks.
What Are the Risk Factors for Oral Cancer?
The primary risk factor for oral cancer is tobacco use. This is especially true of chewing tobacco since it is carcinogenic and is held in the mouth for a long period of time. Alcohol is also a risk factor for oral cancer. If you both smoke and drink, your oral cancer risk is even higher. Additionally, men are more likely to get oral cancer than women.
How Does a Dentist Check for Oral Cancer?
Your dentist will use a brush to collect cells from any areas inside your mouth that appear suspicious. These cells will be sent to a laboratory, where they will be analyzed for the presence of cancer. This procedure is entirely painless and occurs while you're sitting in the dental chair.
For signs of oral cancer that aren't visible in your mouth, your dentist will use dental imaging equipment to examine for any abnormalities that could indicate the presence of cancer. He or she will also feel for any lumps in your throat and in your cheeks that may be indicators of cancer.
How Is Oral Cancer Treated?
The typical treatment for oral cancer is surgical removal of any cancerous cells followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Early detection will make treatment less invasive. Oral cancer that has spread throughout your mouth may result in a surgeon needing to remove a large portion of your jaw in order to successfully treat the cancer. Early detection is also key to improving survival rates, as there's less risk that the cancer will begin to spread throughout the body.
On a final note about oral cancer, it's important to schedule regular check-ups and cleanings with your dentist every six months. As part of your dental exam, you'll be checked for any signs of oral cancer. This becomes more important as you age since oral cancer tends to occur later in life. Remember that early detection is important. Detecting oral cancer early will both make treatment easier and increase your odds of survival.
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