Oral cancer is the sixth most common type of cancer, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation, with nearly 50,000 Americans expected to be diagnosed this year. One person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day. The statistics are scary, but your general dentist is the first line of defense against this disease.
During a scheduled dental visit, your general dentist can perform an oral cancer screening. Your general dentist will check 10 places inside and around the mouth, looking for lumps or irregular tissue changes. The exam takes less than 60 seconds.
- An open conversation: Your general dentist will start the exam by asking you questions about your oral health. Be open and honest with your general dentist about any changes to your oral health — no matter how small — are important to share. Your general dentist will ask you about your regular dental hygiene routine, about tobacco use and if you have noticed any changes in your oral health, such as sores that won’t heal. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions.
- A thorough exam: During the exam, your general dentist will feel for lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, cheeks and oral cavity. He or she also will examine the soft tissues in your mouth, looking for sores or discolored tissues. He or she may use screening devices that use rinses, dyes or different types of lights to detect abnormal cells.
- A follow-up discussion: Following the exam, your general dentist will discuss the findings. If he or she finds something that looks abnormal, you will be referred to your medical doctor for further examination. Oral cancer is only diagnosable after a biopsy. Keep in mind that just because something looks abnormal to your general dentist, it does not mean that you have oral cancer. If you are asked to follow up with your medical professional, please do so.
Talk with your general dentists about oral cancer screenings and speak up during your visit about any questions about the exam. Your general dentist is happy to address your concerns.
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