April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, which means dentists around the country are taking the time to inform their patients on the dangers of this potentially life-threatening disease. As of recent reports, approximately 53,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year. As a result, about 10,000 people die every year, mainly because it’s caught in the late stages. Even if people survive oral cancer, they’re often forced to undergo reconstructive surgery after it’s eradicated.
Today, a dentist in North Central San Antonio wants to highlight the most important signs and symptoms, how you can protect yourself in between visits, and how his office performs screenings designed to catch oral cancer in its earliest stages!
The Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
The signs and symptoms of oral cancer can be difficult to catch at first, but there are many to keep an eye out for. While a professional is the best person to speak to when confirming the presence of oral cancer, it doesn’t hurt to perform monthly self-exams in the mirror as well. Your bathroom or a well-lit room are both appropriate areas to perform the exam, as long as you can effectively examine all of your oral structures. This includes the mouth, cheeks, neck, throat, tonsils, tongue, lips, and gums. The most common signs of oral cancer include:
- Red or white patches of tissue or sores that do not heal
- Lumps or thickenings in the neck, lips, gums or mouth
- Loose teeth or dentures that do not fit properly
- Swelling in the jaw
- Stiffness of the neck or jaw
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- Constant feeling that something is caught in the throat
What to Expect at Your Screening
When you visit the dentist, they are not only on the lookout for tooth decay and gum disease. They’re also taking note of any of the symptoms that were previously listed. Dentists are trained to catch the signs of oral cancer, both by examining your many oral structures and feeling for any abnormalities that are present.
If the dentist does notice any signs of oral cancer, they will refer you to another doctor who will perform a biopsy of your oral tissue. This simply means they’ll take a small sample from you in order to test it for cancerous cells. This is the most effective way to confirm the presence of cancer and get you on the right path towards treatment.
How Can You Prevent Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is best caught in the early stages when it is still largely treatable and even curable. The best way to accomplish this is to commit to routine visits to the dentist, typically once every six months. These visits allow dentists to catch any potential signs of oral cancer as well as evaluate your at-home oral care routine, which is also important to reducing your risk. Furthermore, great ways to reduce your risk include:
- Keeping a balanced diet
- Using sunscreen and lip balm when going outside
- Avoiding tobacco entirely
- Moderating alcohol consumption
Don’t skip your next dental appointment. Schedule your next one with a dentist today and make sure no early signs of oral cancer are present!
About the Author
Dr. Brian L. Eck has been practicing dentistry for over 35 years. His office performs routine oral cancer screenings and does everything he can to keep patients informed on how to reduce their risk for the condition. To learn more about his preventive care or practice, you can contact him through his website.