Oral Cancer: An Overview

By: Dr. Elizabeth Eggert

Did you know that your dental health professional can help with the early detection of oral cancer? That’s right! At Eggert Family Dentistry, we recognize that the treatments come from early detection. In fact, industry-wide, dental professionals detect 84% of early-onset oral cancer. In our office, we provide thorough oral cancer screenings at routine visits as part of our proactive approach to dentistry.

Oral cancer risk factors

Typically, patients who are diagnosed with oral cancer possess at least one of the following risk factors:

  • Over 40 years of age
  • Tobacco use
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Prolonged sun exposure
  • HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)
  • Male
  • Unhealthy diet

However, it is increasingly common for people who don’t possess any common risk factors to be diagnosed with oral cancer. This reiterates the importance of routine screening!

Oral cancer symptoms

There are a variety of symptoms to watch for that are indicative of oral cancer. While some of these symptoms can be attributed to other causes, it’s wise to play it safe and make an appointment with Dr. Elizabeth or Dr. Jeff if you:

  • Experience numbness or pain when you bite down on your teeth
  • Find a lump in your mouth
  • Notice red or white patches in your mouth
  • Have spots in your mouth that frequently bleed and don’t heal well

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and if they have been present for more than two weeks, it’s best to make an appointment for an evaluation. Symptoms of herpes simplex and aphthous ulcerations, or canker sores, can mimic some oral cancer symptoms but resolve themselves in 10-14 days.

Oral cancer detection

When you undergo an oral cancer screening as part of your recare visit at Eggert Family Dentistry, Dr. Elizabeth or Dr. Jeff perform a systematic visual and palpation examination of your mouth’s soft tissues. We look closely at your tongue, the floor of your mouth and around the base of your tongue as well as at the inside of your cheeks, lips, and the roof of your mouth. We also carefully examine the lymph nodes around your mouth, neck, and throat.

Oral cancer treatment and prevention

If, upon examination, we suspect the presence of oral cancer, Dr. Elizabeth or Dr. Jeff will refer you for a biopsy of the area in question. If the biopsy comes back positive, the oral surgeon will delineate the best treatment plan for you. This can include any of the following: surgery to remove the cancer, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Mouth reconstruction may be necessary post-treatment depending on how much of your mouth is affected. Reconstruction may include skin, muscle or bone grafts or dental implants.

Healthy lifestyle habits including healthy eating, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption as well as daily brushing and flossing and routine recare visits are your best defenses against oral cancer. If you are concerned about oral cancer, we would be happy to perform a routine, early-detection exam. Come in for a recare visit today. Call us at 651.482.8412.

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