Dental Visits Can Help Prevent Oral Cancer

Content provided by our partner Dr. Wes Blakeslee ~

In my last article, I mentioned that approximately 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer every year. It causes nearly 10,000 deaths annually, and only about 50 percent of people who are diagnosed with oral cancer live more than 5 years.

What Are Risk Factors Associated with Oral Cancer?

While oral cancer does affect some individuals seemingly out of nowhere, most of the risk factors commonly associated with oral cancer make it entirely preventable.  Oral cancer was typically associated with tobacco products and alcohol, the so-called “traditional carcinogens.”  But recent advances in diagnostic technology have revealed that about 80% of oral cancers are caused by exposure  to the human papilloma virus, also referred to as HPV. It is also important to appreciate that excessive exposure to the  sun can lead to cancer of the lips if you aren’t careful.  Once you’ve developed oral cancer, you’re more likely to contract it again than most other people.  As you can clearly see, you can reduce the chances of having to deal with oral cancer by steering clear of these risk factors.

How Will My Dentist Help Prevent Oral Cancer?

Your dentist will not be able to tell you if you have oral cancer by doing a normal dental exam. But he or she will be able to tell you if you have any of the signs associated with it.  A new development in assessing risk for oral cancer is a saliva test that can detect HPV in the mouth. This inexpensive test is analyzed by a medical lab and your dentist receives a report– positive or negative– for the presence of HPV.  But if your test is positive, it doesn’t mean that you have oral cancer; it just means you’re at higher risk to develop it and need to be followed more closely.  The good news: About 95-98% of those patients who test positive for HPV eventually clear the virus by way of their immune system. Furthermore, a dentist can help prevent oral cancer by keeping a close eye on anything that might look concerning. That’s why it’s so important for you to continue to come back every six months. It’s the only way for your dentist to keep watch over potential signs of oral cancer.

What Happens If My Dentist Thinks I Have Oral Cancer?

If your dentist has any reason to believe that you have oral cancer, it’s important for him or her to act quickly and decisively. In some instances, if your dentist finds something unusual, he or she might simply ask you to come back in a week or two for another examination.  But more often than not, your dentist will send you to another dental specialist right away for a second opinion if he or she suspects oral cancer. You might also have a biopsy done to confirm suspicions about oral cancer. If you do have oral cancer, you and your dentist will work closely together to come up with a plan of action. You will be able to ask any questions you might have about oral cancer and learn more about your treatment options.  However, all of this is predicated on you taking the first step towards trying to prevent oral cancer. That involves scheduling regular dental visits with your dentist and making sure you stick to them.

Do you have reason to believe you might be at increased risk for oral cancer?  

Here is a short list of common signs & symptoms of oral cancer:

 1) a swelling or lump in your mouth or throat

2) an ulcer anywhere in your mouth that isn’t healing

3) a lump or swelling in your neck

4) a change in the way your teeth come together

5) difficulty in swallowing

6) a change in your voice, especially hoarseness 

 7) a feeling of numbness anywhere in your mouth, lips or throat.

Make an Appointment With a Dentist Today!

Do you have reason to believe you might be dealing with oral cancer? Or do you simply want to make sure you’re able to prevent oral cancer at all costs by having regular checkups done?

Our experienced dental team is well equipped to take care of all your oral health needs.  Contact us if you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation!

Advanced Dentistry of Wall – Wesley Blakeslee, DMD, PA
2517 Hwy 35 Suite P102
Wall Township, NJ 08736
Phone: 732-223-4466


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