When you make an appointment with your dentist, you're likely concerned about cavities or gum disease at worst. Yet each routine visit for a cleaning and dental inspection will include a basic screening for oral cancer. In some cases, the dentist may end up recommending further tests to rule out the chance of cancer. The key is to take these warnings seriously without feeling panicked or anxious. Oral cancer screening is a routine part of adult dental care, and a test or two is nothing to worry about. Learn what will make a dentist recommend testing and what methods are used to keep you safe if you show any mouth cancer symptoms.
What are Common Mouth Cancer Symptoms?
As with most types of cancer, early detection of oral cancer increases your chances of successful treatment. Keep an eye out for common symptoms of this health concern like:
- Lesions or sores inside the mouth that don't heal on their own within a few days
- Raised red or white patches inside the mouth
- Lumps or bumps in the lips, inner mouth lining, or tongue
- Swelling in the lining of the cheeks or roof of the mouth
- Lip sores that won't heal
- Pain in the ear, jaw, or when chewing
- Difficulty speaking, chewing, or swallowing
- Numbness or unusual bleeding anywhere in the mouth.
It is possible to develop a case of oral cancer with none of these symptoms. In these cases, it may be discovered during another procedure or some kind of imaging service. Get any related symptoms checked out by the dentist so you can rest assured that you're not experiencing anything serious from a minor sore on the lip or a sharp pain in the ear.
Oral Cancer Screening Methods
Dentists and hygienists will keep a watch for visible symptoms of oral cancer like patches and lumps. However, they can also use a variety of more advanced testing options to better diagnose what you're dealing with. The most definitive oral cancer test will occur at an oncologist's office, but early screening often occurs at the dentist instead. Tools like a Velscope use light to highlight abnormal cells and lesions inside the mouth. This kind of testing helps you identify parts of the mouth that might need a biopsy for further testing. However, cleaning this kind of screening doesn't guarantee you're free from oral cancer. Keep your dentist and other doctors updated if you still suspect something might be wrong despite nothing being found with a screening. If new lumps, lesions, or pain symptoms occur, consider another oral cancer screening. This is particularly important for anyone who had a confirmed case of cancer, even if they are currently in remission from it.
When Does a Dentist Decide to Order Oral Cancer Screening?
Dentists generally don't recommend intensive screening like the use of dyes or lights unless you have risk factors or a history of previous oral cancer. For most patients, just a general check-up for visible patches or obvious lumps is considered more than enough. In-depth screening is only recommended if you have specific risks or symptoms that might indicate cancer in the mouth. This means that if your dentist does recommend a screening with something like a Velscope, you shouldn't miss the appointment. You'll want to know what can be discovered with the dentist's help rather than assuming that everything is just fine. Even biopsies tend to be fairly painless and non-intrusive when performed in the mouth, and staying on top of your changing health allows you to have the best chances of success if you do need treatment.
Steps to Take to Reduce Oral Cancer Risks
Risk factors include smoking and oral tobacco product use. There is only limited evidence that vaporized nicotine products are any safer than traditional tobacco when it comes to oral cancer risks. Heavy alcohol use is another problem, so seek treatment for problem drinking as early as possible to lower your overall mouth cancer risk. Even sun exposure increases the chances of cancer in the lips. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and overall good health are known to lower the risk for all forms of cancer, including inside the mouth. There is some evidence that human papillomavirus (HPV) may increase risks for multiple cancers, so get vaccinated for it if possible. It's important to understand that the majority of oral cancers today are not linked to any specific risk factor. This means even if you have a healthy lifestyle and don't smoke or drink, you can't avoid screening for this kind of cancer since it could always occur without warning.
Discuss your concerns about oral cancer with your dentist the next time you see them. If you would like a mouth cancer screening because of new symptoms or issues, schedule a visit with us here at Las Cruces Dental Solutions. Our team will guide you through the process of investigating your dental health and help you find the screenings you need to get accurate answers. Work with a dental team that has the knowledge about oral cancer that will protect you.