Your oral health is about more than just your teeth. Your dental professional takes care of your teeth, the bones of your jaw, your gums, and other oral tissues. One important issue that dentists look for during your checkups is signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer screening should be completed regularly to ensure that any symptoms are noticed immediately.
What is Oral Cancer?
There are many types of oral cancers that can affect various areas of your mouth. Some develop on the tissue inside your mouth, others may develop on the lips, and some appear on salivary glands. These types of oral cancer can range from benign tumors to various carcinomas. Some types of these oral afflictions can be removed with surgery, while others will need some form of chemical or drug therapy to treat. Regardless of the type of cancer, it’s best if the symptoms are caught as early as possible so that treatment can be provided early on.
How Does My Dentist Perform an Oral Cancer Screening?
Many dentists perform a basic oral cancer screening at dental checkups, so you’ve probably had one before even if you didn’t realize it at the time. To perform an oral cancer screening, a dental professional will thoroughly examine your lips, tongue, gums, the roof of your mouth, and other tissue inside your mouth visually and sometimes by gently probing the areas.
There are different levels of screening for oral cancer. At a regular dental checkup your dentist will likely perform a basic exam such as that described above by visually inspected the areas of your mouth and throat. If anything seems unusual to your dentist, he or she may perform additional examinations. This might include simply rinsing your mouth with a dye that will make it easier to notice unusual cells, or in some cases your dentist may suggest a biopsy.
What are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer can be preceded by some symptoms that are noticeable to you but which you may not think to mention to your dentist. These can include jaw pain or difficulty moving your jaw, pain in your tongue or difficulty moving it, white or red patches on the tissue inside your mouth or on your tongue, difficulty or pain swallowing, a lump in your mouth, or other discomfort in or around your mouth. If you notice any of these symptoms or something that doesn’t seem right, it’s important to point them out to your dentist during your checkup or to a doctor.
What Can I Do to Prevent Oral Cancer?
While oral cancer can occur in anyone, there are some steps people can take to reduce their risk of developing it. Many of these are habits already promoted for healthy lifestyles, such as avoiding the use of tobacco products, protecting the skin on your lips from getting too much sun exposure by wearing lip products with sun protection, and limiting your alcohol intake. Additionally, if you’ve ever developed oral cancer and had it removed or treated, you should schedule regular checkups to ensure it doesn’t return.
Oral cancer can affect anyone, and the best way to avoid it is prevention and regular checkups with your local dentist. For information about oral cancer, or to schedule an appointment, contact the San Marcos dental office of Carothers Family Dental.