Being consistent with screenings for mouth cancer is a critical part of maintaining one’s health. Most dentists perform these screenings at routine dental appointments. Additionally, there are things patients can keep in mind to lessen their chances of getting mouth cancer.
Dentists Dr. Jonathan Klineman, owner and dental manager of The Dental Office of Solon, and Dr. Jason Streem, periodontist at Periodontal Associates Inc. in Lyndhurst and Mentor, talked about what mouth cancer is and the importance of screenings, and offered advice on best practices for avoiding the disease.
“Mouth cancer is any cancer that occurs inside or around the mouth including the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor and roof of the mouth, jaws and the tonsillar throat region,” Klineman said.
Causes of mouth cancer include tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, sun exposure, human papillomavirus and a weakened immune system, he listed.
Avoiding too much tobacco, alcohol and sun exposure is a good start, he said. In addition, patients should be screened for the disease twice a year.
“Proper lip protection of SPF 30 is essential,” he said. “Absolutely request your dentist to do an oral cancer screening every six months as part of your routine examination. It’s quick, painless and often is included in the examination fee.”
Early intervention and detection of oral cancer is essential, Klineman explained, adding that oral cancer can advance from Stage1 to Stage 4 in five years.
Dentists perform oral cancer screenings in many different ways, he said, such as staining rinses, mouth scrape biopsies and special scopes that shine fluorescent light for cancer detection.
“Many dentists agree the most effective examination is a thorough visual inspection of the mouth, in addition to feeling the surfaces of the cheeks and tongue, as well as palpating the neck nodes,” he said.
One should never be afraid to ask their dentist for an oral cancer screening, Klineman said. Dentists usually see patients more often than their primary care physicians do, so they are glad to screen their patients routinely at their requests.
Streem explained oral cavity cancers are diseases in which malignant, or cancerous, cells form in the mouth and throat. They usually form in the squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that line the inside of the oral cavity.
“These cells are present in the lips; the front two thirds of the tongue; the gingiva, or the gums; the buccal mucosa, or the lining of the inside of the cheeks; the floor, or the bottom of the mouth under the tongue; the hard palate, or the front of the roof of the mouth; and the retromolar trigone, the small area behind the wisdom teeth,” he explained.
Streem also said tobacco use, alcohol, HPV and UV radiation cause mouth cancer. Additionally, mainly in southeast Asia, mouth cancer may be caused by Betel or Areca nut use.
“Stop smoking, avoid alcohol consumption, consider HPV vaccination, see your dental professional for regular checkups,” he advised.
Oral cancers, such as Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma, are the eighth most common cancers in the United States, he explained. They have a five year survival rate of 65% and are twice as common in men as they are in women. They can be very debilitating, so they must be found and removed when they’re small to minimize risk.
“If something feels weird in your mouth or a growth isn’t going away, please tell your dentist and, if necessary, have it biopsied,” Streem recommended.