Ask the Dentist – Oral Cancer Awareness Month
I love it when a plan comes together. April 1 marks the start of the 13th annual Oral Cancer Awareness Month here in the United States and one of the questions submitted to Ask the Dentist this week was about oral cancer exams. I couldn’t have planned it better if I had tried. So, without further ado, today’s question is from Matthew who writes…
“I’m 32 and I don’t smoke or chew tobacco but every time I go to the dentist for my cleaning, the hygienist does what she calls an oral cancer exam. Is this really necessary? I don’t mind the exam but it seems kind of silly since I don’t smoke.”
Matthew, that is a really excellent question. First, let me tell you that you are very lucky that your dentist’s office cares enough about their patients that they routinely do oral cancer screening exams. While oral cancer has, in the past, been a cancer that was typically found in the over 40 year old population, recently the age of oral cancer diagnosis is falling so, at 32, there is no question that part of your dental check up should include an oral cancer exam. Second, let me share a few compelling facts. Nearly 40,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year and about 8,000 Americans will die from oral cancer. Despite these frightening statistics, there is still no comprehensive program in the US to encourage routine screening for this disease. Because in a perfect world, people visit their dentists two times a year for check ups, many in the dental profession have taken it upon themselves to include oral cancer screening at the recall appointment. Because there is no mandate for this screening, it is still considered an opportunistic screening and, latest reports indicate that still only 15% of people going to the dentist have an oral cancer screening done. By increasing the public’s awareness as to the importance of this exam, it is hoped that more dental and medical offices will make this a routine part of the patient’s exam. And, Matthew, while tobacco use has historically been the primary cause of most oral cancers, a disturbing increase in the number of oral cancers caused by the Human Papilloma Virus version 16 (HPV16) has generated an even stronger desire to get the message out that oral cancer screenings need to be done at least yearly. By having the dentist do a thorough oral cancer exam that includes examining the gums, the cheeks, the tongue, the lips, the back of the throat, the palate as well as feeling for unusual bumps on the outside of the neck, any questionable area can be detected early and get diagnosed and, if necessary, treated in a more timely manner. Part of patient awareness also includes teaching them to be aware of any changes in their oral tissue such as sores that don’t heal or unusual spots along the tongue or inside of the mouth, etc. It is always recommended that, if you have something that concerns you, you ask the professional just to be safe.
So, Matthew, hopefully you see how lucky you are to have a hygienist in a dental office that cares so much about their patients that they include an oral cancer screening at each checkup. It’s a painless, quick and informative test that dental offices everywhere should routinely offer. Family Dental Care Park Ridge has been doing oral cancer screening exams on our patients for over 20 years. For more information about oral cancer, you might want to check out this link.
Thanks Matthew for a really important question. If you have a dental related question that you would like answered in Ask the Dentist, email Family Dental Care Park Ridge at info@ParkRidgeDDS.com or submit your question in the comment section below.
And remember, as always…we LOVE making you smile!