The Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings
Did you know that our hygienists perform oral cancer screenings in the form of head and neck exams at every single cleaning at no extra charge? According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, less than 15% of people that regularly see a dentist report having received a head and neck exam. This despite the fact that oral cancer is diagnosed in more than 30,000 Americans every year, and 8,000 of those die from the disease. By providing free head and neck exams at each cleaning, the hygienists at Smiles for Life are providing one of the most important services in the battle against oral cancer.
More Common Than You Think
The American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) explains that oral cancer is more common than leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, and cancers of the brain, liver, bone, and stomach. It can affect almost anyone, but those who use tobacco or alcohol are most commonly diagnosed. In fact, 75% of diagnoses of oral cancer are directly related to tobacco or alcohol use. Keep in mind that that means 25% of people diagnosed do not smoke or drink alcohol and may have little to no risk factors. While less common, the human papillomavirus (HPV) has also been shown to cause oral cancer. Clearly, it is important for everyone to be screened for oral cancer despite their age or lifestyle.
Signs and Symptoms
Some of the signs for oral cancer that have been cited by the ADHA include:
- Sores in the mouth that do not heal
- Lumps on the lip or in the mouth or throat
- White or red patches on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth
- Unusual bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth
- Sore throats that do not go away, or a feeling that something is caught in the throat
- Difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing.
Examples of oral cancer from left to right: white lumps on the tongue, white patches on cheeks, sores and legions on tongue.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially for two weeks or longer, you may be at risk for oral cancer. Schedule an appointment with your hygienist to receive an oral cancer screening and ask them what your next steps should be. Remember, early diagnosis is the key to treating nearly 90% of oral cancer cases. That’s why the hygienists at Smiles for Life always take the time to conduct head and neck exams as part of their cleanings. We care about more than just your dental health, we care about your overall well-being.