At Freedom Dental we are passionate about early screening for oral cancer. Oral cancer is more common in Australia than you might think, accounting for as much as 6.5 per cent of all cancer diagnoses in the country1.
Dental examinations, unlike many other cancer screening procedures, are not invasive and are important for the diagnosis and treatment of the problem.
Our pain free oral cancer examination involves a simple and quick screening of the oral cavity as a whole and not just your teeth. We will also check the mouth for white patches, red patches, ulcerations, lumps, loose teeth, and review your dental x-rays for abnormalities.
Your dentist may be the first person to spot the signs of this illness, which is yet another reason why you should aim for regular dental check-ups. Our patient’s health is important to us and it’s important our patients are aware of what to look out for with oral cancer.
Below we have answered some of the most commonly asked questions about oral cancer so you know what it is, how you can lessen your risk of developing it and which warning signs to look out for.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer affects any part of the mouth, including the tongue, gums, lips, soft palate, cheeks and the floor of your mouth. From here, the cancer can spread through the upper and lower jaw and into the lymph nodes of the neck before heading further throughout the body.
By far the most common first sign of this disease is a sore that simply doesn’t heal. It may be painful and look red or white, and it’s something that you should ask your dentist or doctor about immediately. Additionally, and new lumps in the neck that don’t go away should be checked by a medical professional as soon as possible. There are a number of other less common symptoms such as unexplainable wiggly teeth and bad breath.
In a lot of cases, you would head straight to your dentist to have these sorts of problems examined, so a dentist may be the first to note that there may be an issue more concerning than just gingivitis.
What causes Oral Cancer?
Like many health problems, frequent tobacco use has been linked to oral cancer. This includes all of its forms, such as cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco. The same is also true for alcohol in this case, and the risks are especially high for anyone who regularly smokes and drinks. In fact, an estimated 75 per cent of all oral cancers are attributed to a combination of these two habits2.
You may also be at higher risk if you have a health condition such as human papillomavirus (HPV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or a history of cancer in your family.
If at any point you are concerned about your oral health and you think you are at risk of developing oral cancer, talk to our friendly dental team for further advice. All of our clinical team are trained to look out for symptoms or signs of oral cancer.
Is Oral Cancer treatable?
The good news is that if we detect oral cancer when it’s still in its early stages, there is an 80-90 per cent survival rate3. Unfortunately, that rate drops the later the cancer is detected, so it’s better to be safe than sorry if you’re concerned at all. It’s important for you to make time for scheduled visits to see us, ensuring you seek professional advice if you see any warning signs.
Every case is different but, for some, the first stage of treatment will be surgery. Following this, treatment may include chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and/or drug and physical therapies. It will largely depend on the location and progress of the oral cancer itself.
What do I do if I think I have Oral Cancer?
If you have read up on the symptoms and causes and think you may be affected, you should make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
Speak to our dental clinicians about any concerns you have. It is possible you will be referred to a local oral surgeon or an otolaryngologist. From here, a surgeon would take a biopsy to determine if oral cancer is present, which can take a few days but will give you a conclusive result. Sometimes, a CT (‘cat’) scan is used to get a better idea of the tumour’s exact size and placement.