Cancer is the second greatest killer in America behind heart disease, and there are forms of cancer that don’t get the attention they deserve. One of those is oral cancer, which is often overlooked despite the 50 percent five year mortality rate.
At Westwood Dental Smiles we don’t like those numbers. It’s our responsibility as dentists to help decrease the deadliness of oral cancer by detecting it early, reducing risk factors, and helping patients like you understand this dreadful disease.
Detecting Oral Cancer
Oral cancer has long been difficult to detect. Unlike some cancers that show signs early, oral cancer is often undetectable until it’s already quite advanced. Mosts cases of oral cancer are symptomless, making a simple visual inspection ineffective at discovering it until it has already metastasized throughout the body.
At our Los Angeles dentist office we use the Velscope oral cancer screening system. This state-of-the-art device uses a specially-tuned light that shows us dark patches wherever cancer may be forming, allowing us to detect it well before it starts to show physical signs.
A Velscope scan is part of every dental exam we perform, so you can rest easy in the knowledge that you’ll be safe well before things become serious.
Early detection can make all the difference, but remember that we’re only seeing you twice a year. In between your regular checkups you need to be keeping an eye on your mouth for signs of oral cancer, especially if you’re an at-risk patient.
The physical symptoms of oral cancer include:
- Raised bumpy tissue in your mouth
- Velvety uneven patches
- Spots that appear red, white, or speckled in color
- Ulcerous spots
- Sores in your mouth that last more than two weeks
- Unexplained oral bleeding
- Crusty sores on your lips, face, or neck that last more than two weeks
Physical symptoms are important to recognize, but they often come too late for early intervention. It’s important to also know what you can be feeling if you have oral cancer, as those signs can appear much earlier. The non-visible signs of oral cancer include:
- A change in the way your teeth or dentures fit together
- Trouble swallowing, chewing, or speaking
- Numbness in your tongue, mouth, face, or neck
- Sensitivity in your tongue, mouth, face, or neck
- A feeling that something is caught in your throat
- Pain in your ear without any hearing loss
- Hoarseness when speaking
- Persistent sore throat
Who Is At Risk For Oral Cancer?
While oral cancer can be extremely deadly there is some good news: it’s often easily prevented. There are, of course, some factors you can’t eliminate, but many of the dangers of oral cancer are lifestyle related.
- Smokers have a six times higher chance of developing oral cancer
- Smokeless tobacco users have a 50 times higher chance!
- Heavy drinkers account for approximately 70 percent of oral cancer cases
- Both smoking and drinking can compound on each other, making risks greater
- A poor diet, particularly one that lacks enough fruits and vegetables, is a significant risk factor
- Spending too much time in the sun, especially when young, greatly increases your chances
- A family history of any kind of cancer is a significant risk factor
- Patients who carry the human papillomavirus (strains HPV-16 and 18) are at a greatly increased risk
Just a few of those factors are beyond your control, with the biggest threats being completely manageable. Tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption are responsible for almost all cases of oral cancer, and if you quit now you can greatly decrease your chances of developing it in just a few short years!
The Best Tool Is Prevention
Screenings for oral cancer can greatly reduce the chances that you develop it, but the best possible way to avoid oral cancer is to control your alcohol intake and quit using tobacco as soon as possible. Early detection of oral cancer increases survival rates to nearly 90 percent, but we would much rather give you a clean bill of health than help you develop a cancer treatment plan!
Starting from a clean slate is the best way to ensure you’re looking into a healthy future. Let us help you get the jump on oral cancer with a checkup and screening at Westwood Dental Smiles. We’d love to see you as soon as possible – all you have to do is pick up the phone and call us at 310-208-4084! You can also request an appointment online. We look forward to seeing you soon!