From Florida Hospital - Apopka
The biggest concern most of us have during a trip to the dentist is the possibility of having a cavity. Your dentist, however, can be the first line of detection for signs of much more serious conditions: head and neck cancers.
“Dentists and their hygienists are very good screeners for oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer. They do a thorough check of the mucus membrane and structures of the mouth for suspicious lesions and refer the patient to a head and neck surgeon if necessary,” said Henry Ho, MD, otolaryngologist and medical director, head and neck program at Florida Hospital Cancer Institute. “Many of my patients are referred to me by concerned dentists.”
Your dentist will typically screen for oral cancer as part of your routine dental exam. You can help increase the chances that any potentially cancerous or precancerous lesions will be caught early and successfully treated by scheduling regular dental check-ups.
And be sure to tell your dentist if you've noticed symptoms like:
A sore that doesn't heal or bleeds easily appearing on your lips, gums, tongue, cheek lining or other parts of your mouth
A lump or rough spot
Pain, numbness or tenderness anywhere in your mouth or on your lips
A change in color of any oral tissues
A feeling as if something is caught in your throat
Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
During an oral cancer screening exam your dentist will examine and feel your face, neck, lips, mouth, tongue, thyroid gland, salivary glands and lymph nodes for any abnormalities. If you have dentures or partials, they should be taken out to allow your dentist to inspect the entire mouth.
More than 50,000 cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. As with other types of cancer, there are risk factors that can be controlled. “Smoking and heavy drinking can greatly increase the risk for head and neck cancers,” says Ho. “Exposure to the human papilloma virus can also increase risk, and we are seeing an increase in younger people with these cancers due to HPV.”
Possible treatments for head and neck cancers include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
“Seeing your dentist twice a year can ensure good oral health, but for some patients it can be a lifesaver,” says Ho.
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