Did you know that about 75% of all head and neck cancers start in the mouth? That’s why an important part of family dentistry is doing mouth cancer screenings. Our goal is to help you keep your mouth healthy!
Now, you may not even realize that you’re getting an oral cancer screening during your appointment. However, this is to help increase the chance of detecting mouth cancers in early stages. Finding them in their early stages can help increase the chance that the cancer can be treated or cured.
Generally, your family dentistry professional does this important health screening every time you come in for your six month cleaning. So, it’s just one more reason to make sure you schedule regular visits with your dentist in Katy, TX!
Mouth cancer is a serious condition that can become life-threatening. Therefore, make sure you get regular oral cancer screenings, know what to look out for, and try to reduce your risks of getting it.
What is a Mouth Cancer Screening? Why Does my Family Dentistry Professional Perform One?
So, what exactly is a mouth cancer screening? Basically this is where your family dentistry professional looks for signs that you may have mouth cancer or precancerous lesions that could turn into mouth cancer.
An oral cancer screening involves a few different things. First, we may ask about your medical history and any symptoms you’ve noticed. These can help inform how much risk you have of getting mouth cancer and whether you’re showing concerning signs.
Next, your dentist in Katy, TX looks for visual signs of potential cancer or precancerous areas. For example, during a mouth cancer the dentist may look at your head, face, neck, thyroid gland, salivary glands, lymph nodes, and more for any abnormalities. Also, we look at your lips and inside your mouth, including your tongue, cheeks, soft palate, hard palate, roof and floor of your mouth, and other areas to look for signs of mouth cancer.
One of the reasons a mouth cancer screening is typically included in your regular family dentistry visit is because we see your mouth all the time! In most cases, the dentist is going to see a whole lot more of your mouth than your primary care doctor who does many other important health screenings.
Talk to Your Dentist in Katy, TX About Mouth Changes and Symptoms
In addition to coming in for your regular appointments, it’s also important to take note of any changes you notice in your mouth. If you do notice something out of the ordinary, call our family dentistry practice to see what we recommend doing. In some cases, we may ask you to come in for an additional exam, or even visit your primary care physician.
Generally speaking, any sores in your mouth should heal in a couple of weeks, so if you notice something sticking around for longer than that, it’s time to ask your dentist in Katy, TX or your doctor.
Remember, not all changes are cancerous or precancerous. There are many different things that could cause changes to the tissues in your mouth or how your teeth fit together. However, we generally believe it’s better to be safe than sorry and get anything abnormal checked out to help rule out something more serious.
What is My Family Dentistry Professional Looking for During an Oral Cancer Screening?
There are many different symptoms that could point to oral cancer. Your family dentistry professional looks for some of the most common to help screen for mouth cancer.
Some symptoms of mouth cancer include:
- Red or white patches
- Sores that bleed easily
- Sores that don’t heal within two weeks
- Rough or crusty areas
- Thick or hard spots
- Unexplained numbness or pain in your mouth
- Changes in bite
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Difficulty moving your tongue or jaw
The most common type of mouth cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma. It generally starts out as what we call squamous cells, which are flat patches of cells on your oral tissue that often look like red or white patches.
Now, just because the dentist detects something abnormal doesn’t mean it’s cancerous. Generally it means we recommend seeing your doctor or an oral surgeon. The only real way to diagnose cancer is by taking a biopsy and analyzing the cells for signs of cancer.
Once again, there are many health conditions that could lead to some of the same symptoms as mouth cancer. So, don’t panic if we recommend visiting your doctor, but we do typically encourage you to take it seriously in case it is oral cancer or another concerning condition.
Consider Doing Self-Screenings Between Family Dentistry Appointments
Also, in some cases, you may want to perform your own self screenings for mouth cancer between your regular appointments. Doing this once a month can help you find changes in your mouth that may need to be looked at by a family dentistry or medical professional.
For your self-screening, you’ll need to remove any dental appliances like dentures or retainers. Make sure you wash your hands really well to prevent spreading germs to your mouth!
You’ll also want a mirror, a flashlight, and maybe even a magnifying glass to help you see inside your mouth. Then, take some time to look at your lips and mouth. Here are some places to check during your self screening:
- Inside cheeks
- Inside and outside of your lips
- Floor of mouth
- Hard and soft palate
- Back of throat
As you check, make note of anything that seems unusual. Be sure you’re looking out for the signs we listed above!
If you do notice anything out of the ordinary during your self screening, give the dentist or your doctor a call to see what they recommend.
Should I Schedule a Family Dentistry Visit for a Canker Sore?
All right, but what about canker sores? While they sound scary, these are generally nothing to be worried about. These small ulcers typically heal on their own. If you have a canker sore that doesn’t heal within two weeks, though, it’s time to schedule a family dentistry visit.
Unfortunately, canker sores can be tender and painful. However, that’s actually a good sign in most cases. Mouth cancer typically isn’t painful in its beginning stages, but canker sores usually are.
How can you tell that what you’re looking at is a canker sore? They typically have a small white or yellow pit in the center of them. They’re usually round or oval and have a red border.
How Do You Get Mouth Cancer?
Mouth cancer happens when cells in your mouth or throat change and start to grow out of control. No one is exactly sure why some people get cancer and other people don’t. However, researchers have found some risk factors that may increase your risk of developing mouth cancer.
The most at-risk group for oral cancer are smokers and excessive drinkers over 50 years old. However, cases in people in their 20s and 30s are increasing, potentially due to HPV infection.
Men are about twice as likely to get mouth cancer than women. This makes it the sixth most common type of cancer for men. Yet, women can still get oral cancer, too, so it’s important to get regular mouth cancer screenings.
Some of the risk factors for mouth cancer include:
- Tobacco use (including smoking, smokeless tobacco, and even potentially e-cigarette use)
- Heavy drinking
- Excessive sun-exposure to the lips
- Lack of fruits and vegetables in diet
- Long-term wounds or chronic trauma (such as from ill-fitting dentures or jagged teeth)
- Some types of HPV infection
What is HPV and What Does it Have to do with Mouth Cancer?
You may be surprised to see that HPV is listed as a risk factor for oral cancer. However, research has shown some types of HPV are associated with cancer, including mouth and throat cancer.
HPV (human papillomavirus) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the U.S. and is spread through skin-to-skin contact, typically during sexual activity. The CDC estimates that at least 75% of Americans have been exposed to HPV.
The virus infects your body and can lay dormant for many years. Most people’s immune systems clear it within two years or so, but some people might have a persistent infection that may cause other health problems, such as throat, mouth, cervical, anal, or penile cancer.
There are over 200 types of HPV, with nine we know may cause cancer in some people and six that we suspect may cause cancer. The most common type of HPV associated with cancers is HPV number 16. However, even if you’ve been diagnosed with HPV, that doesn’t mean you will get oral cancer, just that you might have a higher risk than someone who hasn’t had HPV.
Fortunately, there are vaccines available to help reduce the risk of getting certain types of HPV, including HPV number 16. The CDC currently recommends vaccinating boys and girls ages 11-12 before they become sexually active and potentially exposed to the virus. This is because the vaccine can only help reduce the risk of a new infection. However, they do also recommend a catch-up vaccine for people through 26 years old. There are vaccines available for some people between 27 and 45, but you’ll need to talk to your doctor about whether they recommend it based on your unique circumstances.
Work with Your Family Dentistry Professional to Reduce Your Risks of Mouth Cancer
Like many other illnesses, mouth cancer may not be fully preventable. However, you can take steps to help reduce your risks for oral cancer and also increase your chances of catching it early. Some steps to take include:
- Quit smoking or using tobacco products
- Limit or quit drinking
- Eat a good, balanced diet with plenty of fruits and veggies
- Ask your doctor if you’re a good candidate for the HPV vaccine
- Know the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer
- Visit your dentist regularly
Get Regular Mouth Cancer Screenings During Your Routine Family Dentistry Visits
For personalized, affordable dental care, visit our team at The ToothBooth Family & Cosmetic Dentistry! We offer a wide range of services to help you take care of your smile. Whether you need a routine cleaning and exam or an emergency dentist near me, we are here to help. Call us today at (832) 437-0841 to learn more and schedule an appointment!