Did you know that every time you have a dentist appointment at Enlighten Dental Care, you are also being screened for cancer? We do a visual examination of all the soft tissues in the mouth, which includes manually extending the tongue to examine its base, palpating the floor of the mouth, and digitally examining the borders of the tongue and the lymph nodes surrounding the oral cavity and neck.
Why do we do this? Each year, there are approximately 45,000 new cases of mouth and throat cancer diagnosed, and about 13 percent of those die within the same year. Early detection means treatment is more likely to be successful, which is just one more reason why regular dental check-ups are so important.
Are you at risk for mouth and throat cancer? Here are some of the risk factors you may be able to minimize or control:
- Use of tobacco products. This includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff. The amount and length of time you have used the product matters as well.
- Heavy drinking is associated with oral cancer, particularly when combined with smoking.
- HPV infection. Human papilloma viruses are involved in some cancers, and about 25 percent of patients with oral cancers are infected with the same HPVs as are seen with cervical cancer.
- UV exposure. Lip cancers are more common among people who work outdoors or have prolonged exposure to sunlight.
- Poor nutrition. Studies have found a link between diets low in fruits and vegetables and an increased risk.
- Chewing betel quid. Usually used in other parts of the world, such as Asia, these are small parcels that typically contain areca nuts, wrapped in a betel leaf coated with slaked lime and may contain tobacco.
During your dental exam, we are checking your face, neck and mouth for lumps, red or white patches, and sore areas that do not heal. If you have noticed any changes in your mouth or neck, it is important to let us know so that we can examine the area more closely. Don’t be afraid to speak up — the earlier a cancer is detected the better, and it may just save your life.