Thanks to modern medicine over the last several decades there have been significant advances in treating cancer and survival rates are up overall. However, the rate at which people are getting some types of cancer has actually increased. Sadly, this is the case with oral cancer. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 1.1% of all men and women will be diagnosed with either oral or throat cancer in their lifetimes. As with all cancers, early detection is critical. The good news is that your dentist in San Diego can perform these screenings for you. But how often are they recommended and what is your dentist looking for? In this blog, we’ll answer those questions and more.
How Often Should You Be Screened?
The Oral Cancer Foundation recommends being screened once each year. But you’ll be glad to know that in the dental field we take it one step further by screening at each checkup, or every six months.
The screening itself is fast and painless. In fact, you’ve probably been screened before without even realizing it! Typically, your doctor will look at the top, sides and bottom of the tongue, the floor of the mouth and the throat. Oftentimes this takes less than 60 seconds.
In addition to your dentist thoroughly checking your tissues, your hygienist is looking as well. Two pairs of eyes are always better than one!
What Is Your Dentist Looking For?
Oral cancer screenings are similar to the way a dermatologist examines your skin for suspicious areas. Generally speaking, your dentist looks for lumps, bumps or lesions in the oral cavity that are out of the ordinary. “Out of the ordinary” is the key phrase here, as there are many instances where these conditions are considered normal, such as a cold sore associated with a herpes outbreak.
In fact, a good rule of thumb is that if something hasn’t gone away on its own within two weeks, it’s a good idea to have it looked at. If it has, it’s considered benign.
Additionally, if you have a chronic, persistent sore throat or have difficulty swallowing, those are also important to have checked.
More specifically, your dentist is looking for the following:
- Tissue Changes – An example is if any portion of the soft tissue in the mouth exhibit changes that make it stand out from the surrounding tissue, such as becoming white, dark red, “calloused,” or irregular in any way.
- Abnormal Lumps – Of course, there are many lumps or bumps in the mouth that are perfectly normal, but potential concerns are if something develops that wasn’t always there, or if there are certain spots that have thickened over time.
In some cases, your dentist may refer you out to a specialist for a second evaluation. Remember, it can be a frightening subject to discuss, but knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your health!
About the Author
Knowing the impact that preventative dentistry can have on their patient’s lives, Dr. Greg Friedman and Dr. Kory Grahl always perform thorough oral cancer screenings at each checkup. They both pursue extensive continuing education each year on a wide range of topics, including pathology, and have a solid understanding of what to look for. If you have any questions, they can be reached through their website or at (858) 682-2394.