Are You At Risk For Cancer? Why Your Dental Exams Should Include Oral Screenings

When you think of your annual dental exams, you most likely think of x-rays, teeth cleaning, and fluoride treatments. But did you know that comprehensive dental exams should also include oral cancer screenings? However, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation, fewer than 15 to 25% of all regular dental patients had had a screening. These screenings are easy to perform, so if you want one done, all you need to do is ask your hygienist or doctor. Read on to see if you are at risk for oral cancer and how a dentist can help prevent it from occurring.

Who's at Risk?

Seniors are at a higher risk for oral cancer than young adults. If you've been infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), you can also raise your risk of oral cancer. If you are in the sun a lot without adequate protection, then the thin skin of your lips can develop cancer more easily. But the biggest causes of oral cancer are alcohol and tobacco products. If a person uses both in excess, they are at an even greater risk. 

Why Do In-Office Oral Screenings Help?

The sooner a cancer is detected, the better chances you have of overcoming it. You want to catch it before it metastasizes--or spreads--to other parts of your body. While you are certainly encouraged to do your own screenings at home, you may not be able to see all the signs of cancer. There are easily seen cancer symptoms on the lips, but you'll need a dentist's assistance to look at your soft palate, hard palate, and pharynx (back of the throat).

Are These Screenings Expensive or Invasive?

The good news is that these screenings shouldn't cost you any extra money--again, they should be apart of your regular dental exam. Your dentist may have opted out of doing them in the past unless you were a high-risk individual. These exams aren't invasive at all and only take about five minutes. During that time, your dentist will palpate your neck, jawline, tongue, gums, and throat with gloved hands and a tongue depressor. He or she will look for tell-tale signs like sores, lumps, numbness, discoloration, and the like. Your dentist will also ask you about any symptoms, like difficulty swallowing or pain.

Because these screenings are so helpful at pinpointing cancer symptoms and so quick and easy to perform, it's really in your best interest to take advantage of them during your yearly dental exams. Talk with a dentist, such as Bewick Keary DDS, to see what other exam treatments (e.g. gum pocket screening) you may be missing out on.