Get an Oral Cancer Screening at Every Dental Exam
Oral cancer is an aggressive form of cancer with high mortality rates. Identifying this disease early and getting immediate treatment is a patient’s best chance for recovery. At every dental exam, Dr. Alana Macalik performs a thorough oral cancer screening. If there are any signs of oral cancer, she will recognize them and guide you to the help you need.
What Is an Oral Cancer Screening?
During your regular dental cleanings and check-ups every six months, you will have your teeth thoroughly cleaned by a dental hygienist, may have x-rays taken, and will undergo an oral cancer screening. While the term “screening” sounds daunting, the review is brief – in fact, you may not even realize that Dr. Macalik is looking for oral cancer during your exam.
When your dentist is looking at your teeth and gums, she isn’t only keeping an eye out for tooth decay or damaged teeth. Here are the areas of the mouth that are typically screened for oral cancer:
- Tongue: Using a piece of gauze, your dentist will hold your tongue and extend it as far as possible to examine underneath and the sides, looking for red and white patches and lumps.
- Lips and cheeks: You dentist rolls her fingers over your lips and cheeks, looking for irregular bumps or red and white areas that indicate cancer.
- Palate: The palate should be hard, so your dentist is looking for any soft areas, as well as patches of discoloration and lumps.
- Floor: In what is known as a simultaneous probe, your dentist examines the floor of the mouth both inside and out at the same time, looking again for any bumps as well as patchiness.
- Neck: When your dentist palpates your neck, she is looking for enlarged nymph nodes that could indicate oral cancer.
The Risks of Developing Oral Cancer
Oral cancer can develop in anyone’s mouth but, as with all cancer, there are some segments of the population that are at greater risk than others.
Smokers and tobacco users are, of course, more likely to develop oral cancer, but so are people who drink too much alcohol. Men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women. The human papilloma virus (HPV) is associated with throat cancer in non-smoking adults. Without a regular oral cancer screening, this form of cancer can be difficult to identify because it often develops at the base of the tongue or in tonsil folds.
Oral Cancer Symptoms
You may think that skipping one dental cleaning and exam is no big deal. Your teeth were healthy at your last visit and you brush and floss daily. This is a mistake. Not only can oral health problems easily develop within six months, signs of oral cancer can also become obvious.
For most people, oral cancer does not exhibit symptoms at its earliest stages. You are unlikely to recognize that anything is off in your mouth – but Dr. Macalik can identify the signs that point to oral cancer, including:
- Red or white patches anywhere in the mouth
- Persistent mouth sores or irritation
- Lip, mouth, or ear pain
- Mouth or lip tenderness
- Numbness in the mouth or lips
- Crusted rough spot
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Chronic sore throat
- Feeling that something is caught in your throat
- Neck lump that is not tender
- Chronic hoarseness
Together, these symptoms are alarming. Separately, the symptoms could indicate oral cancer or could be a sign of another oral health problem, like gum disease or a tooth infection. Dr. Macalik is trained to recognize abnormalities in your mouth and will always err on the side of caution and recommend further oral cancer testing should a symptom be especially troubling.
Don’t miss your six-month dental exam, teeth cleaning, and oral cancer screening. Contact Dr. Macalik’s office in Arlington, Texas to schedule your check-up, or to have any worrisome symptoms reviewed. Together, we will keep your mouth healthy.