Written by Matthew C. Graham, DDS 2018
Edited by Dr. Paul M. Graham
According to the American Dental Association, oral cancers account for 2.9% of all the cancers diagnosed in the United States, contributing to 1.6% of cancers deaths. This may seem like a pretty low number, but the individuals affected feel the significant impacts associated. If detected early, the 5-year survival rate for patients with oral cancer is 83%. This number is remarkably better than the 36% 5-year survival rate if the cancer is detected after it has spread (metastasized) [American Dental Association, 2017]. Conveniently, I am here to present some vital tips and recommendations that could help reduce your risks and, if it comes down to it, increase the overall survival rate.
- Our #1 recommendation is to see your dentist regularly! At routine dental visits, dentists and dental hygienists are trained to perform thorough head and neck exams. I guess you could also even look at is as a facial massage. They feel for abnormal lymph nodes and look for obvious skin discoloration (red or white)/“lumps or bumps” that don’t belong. This is something you can do on your own; however, dental professionals are extensively trained in recognition of abnormalities. Let’s face it, dentist look in a lot of mouths, so they are better at spotting things that are abnormal.
- The biggest locations of concern are the sides of the tongue and below, back of the throat, lips, and the roof of your mouth.
- Even if you don’t have teeth and wear dentures, it is important to see your dentist for annual check-ups and adjustments.
- Stop smoking immediately! Smoking and other tobacco products are significant risk factors for oral cancers. This includes “dip” and other smokeless tobacco products that sit on your gums for extended periods of time.
Not surprisingly, 90% of people diagnosed with oral cancer use tobacco. (Colgate Oral Care Center)
- Reduce alcohol consumption. This is kind of the same situation. Excessive consumptions of alcohol also increases your risk of developing oral cancer.
- Get vaccinated for HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). There is a suspected link with this disease and oral cancer.
- Conduct your own routine oral exams between dental appointments!
Look out for anything that appears suspicious. Lesions are typically red or white in color, ragged, and hard to the touch. The most common locations are the sides of the tongue, floor of the mouth, and around the teeth.
There are numerous other conditions that show up in the mouth that aren’t cancer. In order to properly diagnose if a lesion is cancer or not, it needs to be biopsied. However, if you notice something suspicious, seek out medical attention with your dentist or physician immediately so they can help you move in the right direction to diagnosis and treatment.
Matthew C. Graham, D.D.S. Candidate 2018, is currently a fourth-year dental student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry. He earned his Bachelors of Science degree in Biology as Summa Cum Laude from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Matt has a few publications pending on the topic of bone augmentation of the jaws for the successful placement of dental implants. Upon graduation from dental school in May of 2018, he plans to practice general dentistry. In the future, Matt plans to pursue his passions in implants, periodontal surgeries, and cosmetic dentistry.
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