You’ve been hearing your entire life how important regular visits with your general dentist are. What you might not realize, however, is that your routine dental visit could actually save your life.
As a part of your twice-yearly examination, your dentist is looking for abnormalities and growths. While sometimes these are the signs of issues like bruxism (chronic teeth grinding or clenching), they could indicate something much more serious – oral cancer.
Here are some sobering facts about oral cancer, courtesy of the American Cancer Society:
- This year, nearly 50,000 people will develop some type of oral cancer.
- Nearly one in five of those people will die as a result of their disease.
One of the keys to successful cancer treatment is early detection. And that can happen when you visit your dentist for your regular check-ups.
While certain risk factors for oral cancer exist, such as tobacco and alcohol use, being male, and being over the age of 60, many people develop oral cancer without the presence of any obvious risk factors.
This means you shouldn’t put off your cancer screening just because you are young and seemingly healthy!
Diagnosing Oral Cancer
Oral cancer can be identified in a number of different ways. Some dentists focus on a visual and physical exam. They will thoroughly check your soft tissues, like your gums, tongue, tonsils, and soft palate, for visible changes, like discolorations. They will also physically palpate your soft tissues with their fingers, searching for lumps that might not be visible.
Other dentists have a more high-tech approach, using a device that causes potentially precancerous cells to fluoresce, or glow.
Either way, if your dentist identifies a suspicious patch of cells, they will take a sample of those cells as a biopsy and send them to a lab to be tested for cancer. If the test comes back positive, they will likely refer you to an oral surgeon, like Dr. Hayes at Coal Creek Oral Surgery and Dental Implant Center.
Treating Oral Cancer
The appropriate treatment for oral cancers will depend on a variety of factors, including the location of the cancer, the size of the cancer, and whether or not it has metastasized (spread).
As a part of your cancer treatment team, Dr. Hayes can work closely and communicate with your oncologist (if necessary) to plan treatment.
Surgery to remove the cancer will likely be a part of your treatment plan. This type of surgery should be done by an oral surgeon like Dr. Hayes, who has a great deal of experience, skill, and compassion. Dr. Hayes recognizes the importance of preserving healthy tissue as well as your function and appearance. If necessary, we can discuss grafting procedures and other options to help restore tissue once you have recovered from the cancer.
Scheduling Your Surgery
If your dentist has identified suspicious cells and referred you to an oral surgeon for further treatment, please call our practice today to request a consultation with Dr. Hayes.
Remember – early diagnosis significantly improves treatment outcomes. If you are due for a check-up, please contact your general dentist.