All About Oral Cancer Screenings
Regular dental check-ups are important, not just to maintain healthy teeth, but because regular check-ups can help catch oral cancer early. A dentist’s job isn’t just to care for
While oral cancer may occur at any age, as patients get older, the risk of developing oral cancer increases and patients over the age of 45, in particular, should be alert for any troubling symptoms. If a patient has any concerns or worrisome symptoms, the best thing they can do is make an appointment and discuss their concerns with the professionals at Burke Dental.
How We Can Help You
Dr. Ghanavati and his team are proud to serve the Burke, Virginia area and offer quality dental care to a variety of patients. At Burke Dental we care about our patients and their oral health. That is why Burke Dental offers oral cancer screenings. We also offer information about oral cancer so that our patients know what to watch out for and when they should call and consult with a professional.
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The Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Regular check-ups are the best way to screen for oral cancer because professionals are trained to notice abnormalities. If oral cancer does develop, it is best to detect it early since left untreated it oral cancer can spread quite rapidly. The earlier it is discovered, the earlier it can be treated. While a professional is better equipped to spot the early signs, there are several symptoms for which people should on the lookout. If a patient develops these symptoms, they should schedule an oral cancer screening with our office as soon as possible, just to be on the safe side. Worrisome symptoms include:
- White Patches. If a patient discovers white patches on their mouth, tongue, or lips, this is a reason for concern. These patches can be a sign of cancerous tissue or of something abnormal. Dark red patches are also concerning.
- Lumps. In general, if a patient discovers an unusual lump anywhere on their body, they should mention it to a healthcare professional. This is just as true with lumps in the mouth as it is with other areas of the body.
- Changes of Texture. Sudden changes in the texture of tissue should be noted and immediately brought to the attention of a professional.
- Bleeding. Bleeding can be a sign of many different oral health issues, including gum disease, and it is something that patients should keep an eye on. If a patient experiences significant bleeding, they should make an appointment for a consult as soon as possible.
- Numbness. A very troubling symptom is unexplained numbness. Frequent or prolonged numbness is of particular concern and should be examined.
- Sores. There are several causes for mouth sores, some more concerning than others. However if a patient discovers sores that are not healing, they should make an immediate appointment.
- Difficulty Swallowing. Sudden, prolonged difficulty swallowing is a dangerous symptom that should be addressed with a healthcare professional immediately.
- Change in Taste. Food suddenly tasting different could be an indicator of a problem. If this occurs only once in
awhileit can be explained by other factors. But if it happens on a regular basis, it could be cause for concern.
Patients experiencing one or more of these symptoms should make an appointment for a check-up. A
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
In addition to knowing what symptoms to watch out for, it’s important to understand the risk factors. Patients who are at higher risk may want to be screened more often. Risk factors for oral cancer include:
- Smoking. Smoking can place a patient at higher risk of oral cancer. However, it is not just cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars can also increase the risk.
- Heavy Drinking. Light to moderate consumption of alcohol is unlikely to increase the risk of oral cancer, but regular, heavy drinking can.
- HPV. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shown the Human Papillomavirus to be present in nearly 72% of oral cancer lesions.
- Exposure to the sun. Patients who don’t wear lip balm with SPF may be at increased risk of oral cancer.
- Family History. If a patient has a close family member who had oral cancer, they could be at higher risk to develop it in the future.
- Age. The risk factor for oral cancer goes up with age.
- Gender. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer than women.
- Previous Diagnosis. Patients who have been previously diagnosed with oral cancer should be vigilant in case the cancer returns.
Patients who meet one or more of these risk factors should make an appointment for an oral cancer screening. After the first appointment, our team will let the patient know how long we suggest going between screenings.
If a patient is scheduled for a routine oral screening, someone from the team at Burke Dental will ask questions to make sure there have been no concerning symptoms or anything unusual. For new patients, we will also ask a few questions about the medical history just to make sure there are no causes for alarm.
If the appointment has been booked because the patient has specific concerns, we will address those. We will ask the patient to describe the symptoms they are experiencing, along with the frequency. We will listen to and address all concerns before proceeding with the physical exam.
Dr. Willis will begin by examining several areas that make up the oral cavity. These areas include the lips, cheek lining, gums, roof and floor of the mouth, and the tongue. Next, Dr. Willis will examine the patient’s throat, including the tonsils. He will feel the outside of jaw and neck to check for anything out of the ordinary.
If Dr. Willis and his team find something concerning, a follow-up appointment will likely be booked. This will allow for further tests to be done. These tests could include doing a dye test to expose abnormal tissue or performing a biopsy, which is when tissue is removed and sent to a lab for testing.
Dr. Willis may also ask the patient to come back in a couple weeks so that he can perform another screening. This may be recommended if there are any lumps or unusual swelling so that we can document whether they have changed size, shape, color, or texture.
If abnormalities are discovered, an appointment will be booked to discuss treatment options, and most likely provide a referral to a specialist.
Booking Your Oral Cancer Screening
Oral cancer is very serious. The longer it is left untreated, the more serious it can become. Regular check-ups are important because they can help the dentist notice any alarming changes. However, while a regular check-up is helpful, it does not take the place of an oral cancer screening. Screenings are designed to focus on all potential problem areas instead of just checking the mouth. Regular screenings are the best way to detect potential problems early. This is particularly important for patients who are at an increased risk of oral cancer.
Patients in the Burke, Virginia area can book an appointment online or by calling our office at 703-978-6000.
We are located at 9006 Fern Park Drive Ste A, Burke, VA 22015