Oral Cancer Detection – Another Important Reason to Visit your Dentist Regularly!

April is National Oral Cancer Awareness month. Oral cancer is the largest group of cancers that fall into the head and neck cancer category. These types of cancer can develop in the cheeks, lips, gums, tongue, throat (at the back of the mouth), tonsils and roof of the mouth. According to The Oral Cancer Foundation approximately 45,750 people in the US alone will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2015. This is the 8th year in a row in which there has been an increase in the rate of occurrences. While some people think oral cancers are rare, about 115 new cases will be diagnosed each day in the US, and one person will die each hour of every day from oral cancer.

Many times oral cancers can be prevented with certain lifestyle measures. While no one is exempt, those most at risk include people who smoke, drink excessive alcohol, have HPV (Human Papilloma Virus, also known to cause cervical cancer), overexposure to sunlight, those age 55+, and are male. Poor oral hygiene and gum disease have also been implicated as risk factors. Some studies even suggest that diets low in fruits and vegetables can elevate cancer risk.

When oral cancer is detected in the early stages patients have a survival rate of 80-90%. Unfortunately at this time, the majority of oral cancer cases are found in later stages of development greatly reducing the survival rate to around 43% at 5 years from diagnosis. Late stage diagnosis is not occurring because oral cancers are hard to diagnose, it’s mostly because of lack of public awareness coupled with lack of routine screenings.

Because early detection is key to survival, it is important to see your dentist regularly. Dr. Glass and Cindie perform an oral cancer screening each time you visit our office for your routine dental cleaning and exam. We are able to take the screening process one step further with ViziLite Plus. The ViziLite Plus exam is a painless screening that we can perform in just a few minutes. ViziLite Plus uses a light source to improve the examiners ability to detect abnormalities that will require further evaluation. It often picks up lesions that would have been difficult to detect under normal lighting. We recommend a ViziLite exam for all of our patients who fall under a higher risk category, but with 25% of oral cancers occurring in people who don’t smoke and who have no other risk factors, everyone can benefit from the screening annually. Make sure we are aware of your health history including tobacco or alcohol use and if you have been diagnosed with HPV.

In between dental visits you can perform a self exam, use a mirror to take a close look at your lips, gums, insides of the cheeks, tongue, back of the throat, and floor and roof of the mouth. Call us if you find sores especially those that bleed easily, any color changes particularly those that present as red or white patches, loose teeth or a change in how teeth fit together, mouth pain that doesn’t improve, a persistent sore throat or feeling that something is stuck in your throat, problems chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue or a feeling of a mass in your throat or neck that persists for more than two weeks.

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SMOKERS: SO YOU THINK YOU’VE HEARD IT ALL BEFORE?

         We all know that cigarette smoking has been linked to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes, respiratory disease and premature babies.  If that information isn’t enough to make you quit, consider this…”Smokers who smoked less than half a pack per day were almost three times more likely than non-smokers to have periodontitis. Those who smoked more than a pack and a half per day had almost six times the risk,” explains Scott Tomar, D.M.D., Dr.P.H. of the Division of Oral Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  And don’t think these statistics are specific only to cigarette smokers.  Cigar and pipe smokers also have a much higher prevalence of moderate to severe periodontitis, compared to former smokers and non-smokers. Not only that, smokers are also at a higher risk of alveolar bone loss than non-smokers.  Carcinogens in smoke interfere with healing, making smokers more likely to lose teeth and not respond to treatment.
     That may not look all that bad to you at first glance, but lets elaborate on that for a minute. The toxins from use of tobacco products are actually melting the jawbone away, elongating the tooth surface, restricting blood flow and creating an unstable environment. The teeth will become loose and will eventually be lost, even if there is no decay and the tooth itself is not diseased. Even if you live with a smoker, you are at risk from secondhand smoke endangering your oral health. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that subjects with periodontitis who were exposed to secondhand smoke were more likely to develop bone loss, the number one cause of tooth loss.
     Most smokers are well aware of increased cancer risk being directly correlated to smoking, but studies show that 90% of people with cancer of the mouth and throat use tobacco. That number should be cause for alarm. 
     Smoking Marijuana (also known as Cannabis) can be just as detrimental. Cannabis smoke acts as a carcinogen and is associated with tooth decay, periodontal disease and pre-malignant lesions. Users are also prone to oral infections, possibly due to the drug’s immunosuppressive effects. 
      Just in case you are wondering if smokeless tobacco is a better option, the simple answer is no. Like cigars and cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products (for example, snuff and chewing tobacco) contain at least 28 chemicals that have been shown to increase the risk of oral cancer and cancer of the throat and esophagus. In fact, chewing tobacco contains higher levels of nicotine than cigarettes, making it harder to quit. One can of snuff delivers more nicotine than over 60 cigarettes. 

Smokeless tobacco can irritate your gum tissue, causing it to recede or pull away from your teeth. Once the gum tissue recedes, your teeth roots become exposed, creating an increased risk of tooth decay. Exposed roots are also more sensitive to hot and cold or other irritants, making eating and drinking uncomfortable.

     Regardless of how long you have used tobacco products, quitting now can greatly reduce serious risks to your health. Studies show that eleven years after quitting, former smokers’ likelihood of having periodontal (gum) disease was not significantly different from people who never smoked. If you need help kicking the habit, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or dentist for tips and resources. 

How Much Do You Know About Oral Cancer?

Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer is not a cancer that most people know much about. According to a recent John’s Hopkins University newsletter, it is expected that this year in the United States alone 35,000 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed. Oral cancer and oropharyngeal cancer can develop in the cheeks, lips, gums, tongue, throat (at the back of the mouth), tonsils and roof of the mouth. Many times oral cancers can be prevented with certain lifestyle measures. While no one is exempt, those most at risk include people who smoke, drink excessive alcohol, have HPV (Human Papilloma Virus, also know to cause cervical cancer), overexposure to sunlight, those age 55+, and are male. Poor oral hygiene and gum disease have also been implicated as risk factors. Some studies even suggest that diets low in fruits and vegetables can elevate cancer risk.
When oral cancer is found early, treatment can be successful 82% of the time. Unfortunately, when compared to the survival rate of other cancers, the survival rate of oral cancer has improved minimally over the past 30 years. Experts recommend regular self exams and an exam annually by a dental professional to improve your odds of early detection. To perform a self exam, use a mirror to take a close look at your lips, gums, insides of the cheeks, tongue, back of the throat, and floor and roof of the mouth. See your doctor if you find sores especially those that bleed easily, any color changes particularly those that present as red or white patches, loose teeth or a change in how teeth fit together, mouth pain that doesn’t improve, a persistent sore throat or feeling that something is stuck in your throat, problems chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue or a feeling of a mass in your throat or neck that persists for more than two weeks.
Because early detection is key to survival, it is important to see your dentist regularly. Dr. Glass and Cindie perform an oral cancer screening each time you visit our office for your routine dental cleaning and exam. We are able to take the screening process one step further with ViziLite Plus. The ViziLite Plus exam is a painless screening that we can perform in just a few minutes. ViziLite Plus uses a light source to improve the examiners ability to detect abnormalities that will require further evaluation. It often picks up lesions that would have been difficult to detect under normal lighting. We recommend a ViziLite exam for all of our patients who fall under a higher risk category, but with 25% of oral cancers occurring in people who don’t smoke and who have no other risk factors, everyone can benefit from the screening annually.