According to the National Institutes of Health, oral cancers are the sixth most common cancers in the world. Indeed, the National Cancer Institute estimates that over 36,000 men and women in the U.S. were diagnosed with oral cancer in 2010 – and roughly 8,000 did not survive. Knowing the warning signs of oral cancer and understanding how oral cancer screenings can help lead to successful treatment is critical to leading a healthy, long life. April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, so there is no better time than now to learn about oral cancer and why it is so important to regularly visit a dentist in Sacramento.

What is Oral Cancer?

One of the most high-profile diseases, cancer occurs when there is an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in the body. When cells divide uncontrollably in the mouth and parts of the throat – including the gums, lips, tongue, inside of the mouth, tonsils, esophagus and middle region of the throat – it is referred to as oral cancer.

Warning signs of oral cancer include:

  • Red or white patches in the mouth
  • Lumps, bumps or thickened areas of skin inside the mouth or throat
  • Ear pain without any loss of hearing
  • The feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Swelling in the jaw
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Numbness in the tongue or mouth

What is an Oral Cancer Screening?

A routine dental checkup is about more than just checking your teeth for cavities. It is also an opportunity for your dentist to examine your mouth and throat for oral cancer by performing an oral cancer screening.

A typical oral cancer screening includes:

  • Visual examination inside your mouth for signs of oral cancer using special tools (e.g., tongue depressor and special lights)
  • Manual examination for unusual bumps and masses on your neck, face and head
  • Verbal questionnaire about exposure to oral cancer risk factors (e.g., tobacco use)
  • Verbal questionnaire to help identify nonvisible symptoms of oral cancer (e.g., hoarse voice)

How Often Should I See a Dentist?

The American Dental Association recommends seeing a dentist every six months for a routine dental checkup. Regular trips to the dentist help ensure that, if it develops, oral cancer is detected early on.

Early detection of oral cancer is critical to overcoming the potentially deadly disease. Indeed, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed early with oral cancer is 75%. However, for patients who are diagnosed after oral cancer has spread, the five-year survival rate drops to only 20%.

Preventive dental care is key to maintaining a healthy smile long into your golden years. If you have experienced any of the symptoms of oral cancer described above – or if you have not been to the dentist in more than six months – do not hesitate to call a dentist in Sacramento.

About the Author

Dr. Scott Grivas has over a decade of experience providing high-quality dental care to families and individuals in Sacramento. He understands the importance of preventive dentistry, which is why he conducts an in-depth evaluation of every patient’s teeth, mouth and other oral structures during regular dental checkups. Patients new and old can contact Dr. Grivas through his website or by calling the office at 916-571-0815.

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