Our dental care providers check for many health conditions during our regular visits. One concern that many patients are unaware of is oral cancer. When caught early, medical professionals can generally treat this condition easily, and survival rates are high. This makes it critical for your dentist to see you twice a year to ensure that every element of your dental health is in order. We’ll explore the details of oral cancer and how your dentist can identify if there’s cause for concern.
What Dentists Do When Oral Cancer Is Suspected
Mouth, or oral cancer, is a term that applies to a range of cancers that occur in the oroesophageal area. It can appear on the tongue, lips, gums, cheek lining, or the floor and roof of the mouth. You should see a doctor immediately if you’re between visits and identify persistent signs or symptoms of these conditions. Some symptoms of these conditions are:
- Mouth or lip sore that doesn’t heal
- Reddish or white patch inside the mouth
- Loose teeth
- Orofacial pain
- Painful or difficult swallowing
- Ear Pain
- Lumps growing inside the mouth
If your dentist identifies any of these signs, they may have you scheduled for testing to determine if cancer is present. The following tests are commonly used during the diagnostic process:
- Oral Brush Biopsies – A sample of tissue is removed from the area suspected to be cancerous. This sample is then sent out for analysis at a lab.
- Endoscopies – This process involves the use of a small flexible tube with a lens attached at the end. This lens projects images of suspected tumors in the mouth and throat. The physician can learn a lot about the suspected tumor using this device.
- Barium Swallowing Tests – This special substance can absorb x-rays and thus appears on x-ray film. The dentist will direct the patient to swallow small amounts of the barium solution while the physician takes x-rays. If the imaging reveals the blockage, cancer may be present.
- HPV Testing – A range of oral cancers known to be caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV. Your physician will perform testing for HPV to determine if cancer may be present.
There are additional tests that your physician may order to determine if oral cancer is present. These include MRI scans, CAT scans, and additional x-rays. These are all essential in determining the state and extent o the cancer present.
The Various Forms Of Oroesophageal Cancer
As mentioned previously, oral cancer isn’t one form of cancer but several. The types of cancer under this umbrella include lymphoma, sarcoma, mucosal melanoma, and minor salivary gland cancer. Each of these presents with different symptoms, but all can be life-threatening if not treated swiftly. This is why it’s essential to see your dentist regularly. You’re protecting more than just your oral health by keeping up with your twice-yearly visits. You may be protecting your overall health from a life-threatening condition.