You may not be aware that in addition to leaving you with a clean mouth and fresh breath at your semi-annual dental visit, Dr. Jekel is also evaluating your mouth for any signs of oral cancer. While this part of the visit may not leave you feeling any differently, it is a very important part of your appointment. Over 40,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral and throat cancers this year. As with any cancer, the earlier it is detected, the better the chances are of successful treatment. The oral cavity includes the lips, cheek lining, gums, tongue, area beneath the tongue and the roof of your mouth made up of the hard and soft palate. The throat starts on the roof of the mouth at the soft palate and extends back into what you would consider your throat. Your semi-annual cleaning and check-up improves the chances that any change in these areas will be detected. Between visits, the ADA recommends patients pay attention to the following signs and symptoms:
- A persistent sore or irritation
- Red or white patches
- Pain, tenderness or numbness in the mouth or lips
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth
Risk factors for oral cancers include those age 50 or older, smokers and excessive alcohol consumption. Additionally, the human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, has been associated with cancers of the oropharyngeal region which is the part of the throat located at the back of the mouth. HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers are attributed to the increasing incidence of throat cancers in non-smokers. So, if treating yourself to a fresh mouth and brighter smile isn’t enough to motivate you to see Dr. Jekel twice a year, identifying any suspicious area in your mouth may be! Remember, early detection is the key in fighting any type of cancer.