If you need another reason to visit your dentist regularly, here’s one: oral cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 54,000 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed this year, and over 11,000 deaths will result. Early detection is critically important. That’s why, for the 23rd year, Oral Cancer Awareness Month will be observed nationally in April, spearheaded by The Oral Cancer Foundation and joined by several dental and medical associations, to raise awareness of the importance of oral cancer screenings to detect oral cancer early.
Among the risk factors for oral cancer (and these are some of the riskiest behaviors!) are exposure to carcinogens by smoking or chewing tobacco or drinking alcohol excessively. One additional risk factor for oral cancer, which isn’t discussed nearly enough, is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There is, however, a vaccine for HPV and it is important for parents to ask about this when the child is young as the vaccine is more effective at a younger age. It’s helpful to discuss individual risk factors with our dentists. If we administer your dental benefits, that conversation could take place during a Health through Oral Wellness® (HOW®) Risk Assessment, during which dentists evaluate patients’ risks for oral diseases and determine eligibility for additional dental care at no cost. Learn more about HOW®.
Dentists typically screen for oral cancer during routine patient exams. Dental screenings only take a few minutes and are painless. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research suggests seeing a dentist or doctor if any of these symptoms are noticed for more than two weeks:
- a sore, irritation, lump, or thick patch in your mouth, lip, or throat
- a white or red patch in your mouth
- a sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in your throat
- difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue
- swelling of your jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
- numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth
- ear pain
When a dentist detects a possible sign of cancer, the tissue is biopsied and analyzed for the presence of cancerous cells. Oral cancer treatment may require surgery, radiation therapy, or a combination of treatments.
Regular dental checkups help us achieve and maintain the good oral health that’s important for overall health and wellness. People with dental insurance visit their dentists more regularly than those without. That’s why we’re happy that the dental benefit options we offer to companies as well as individuals and families, encourage at least semi-annual dental visits during which oral cancer screenings can take place.