The dental profession is about more than simply taking care of a patient’s teeth. Dentists are also the first line of defense against the potential threat of oral cancers and other diseases of the mouth.
However, cancer detection can be a delicate process for dentists, especially with cancer being able to masquerade as something else like a tonsil infection or a benign ulcer on a patient’s tongue.
Most signs and symptoms of oral cancer are only detected when it persists longer than the usual recovery time. If this should be the case, the affected individual is highly encouraged to see a doctor or dentist immediately.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer Include the following:
- Persistent pain and sores in the mouth
- A lump or thickening in the cheek
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
- A sore throat or a constant feeling of something caught in the throat
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
- Difficulty with jaw or tongue movement
- Numbness of the tongue or in other areas of the mouth
- Swelling of the jaw that makes dentures uncomfortable or incompatible
- Loose teeth or pain around the teeth or jaw
- Voice changes
- A lump or mass in the neck
- Weight loss
- Constant bad breath
Once a potential sign or symptom is detected, an individual should not wait for things to worsen. It is highly recommended for patients to visit their dentist immediately if any of these symptoms should surface.
This is why dental practitioners are encouraged to perform dental cancer screening as part of a patient’s regular check-up to prevent or treat early signs of oral cancer.
Risk Reduction And Treatment For Oral Cancer
Oral Cancer is a type of disease that develops in the tissues of the mouth (Oral Cavity cancer) or throat (Oropharyngeal cancer). Both types of oral cancer are common but curable if found in the early stages.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the overall 5-year survival rate for individuals with oral cancer is 84 percent. Individuals diagnosed in the earlier stages (1 & 2) are more likely to survive with a 70 to 90 percent chance of recovery compared to those diagnosed at the later stages (3 & 4) which ranges from 64 to 38 percent respectively.
Knowing the risk factors and treatment options involved in oral cancer is critical for both dentists and patients to prevent or avoid developing the disease.
Who Gets Oral Cancer?
Annually, five hundred thousand people are diagnosed with this type of cancer worldwide, and fifty thousand of these individuals come from the United States alone. Males are twice as likely to develop oral cancer as Females.
Currently, the average age of oral cancer susceptibility is around 50 years old. However, it is still possible for those who are in their teenage years.
Risk Factors That Can Expedite Oral Cancer Development
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol abuse
- Human papillomavirus or HPV (sexually transmitted disease)
- Age (50 years and up)
- Overexposure to the sun
- Poor diet (meals low on fruits and vegetables)
- Hereditary genes
With the exceptions of age and hereditary genetics, most of the risk factors listed are a matter of an individual’s lifestyle. The decision to actively change or eliminate certain habits can slow the growth or avoid oral cancer altogether.
Preventing oral cancer can easily be done by stopping the use of any tobacco products, stopping or minimizing the intake of alcohol, having a more nutritious diet, and in the case of HPV, being sexually responsible.
There are different treatments an individual with oral cancer may undergo, which will all depend on the type, location, and stage the cancer is in upon diagnosis.
Surgery is usually performed when oral cancer is discovered in its early stages. It aims to remove tumors, cancerous lymph nodes, and other additional damaged tissue around the mouth and neck.
This treatment involves the application of drugs orally or through an intravenous (IV) line to kill off cancer cells in the affected area.
- Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy involves a doctor using radiation beams on the tumor several times in a two to eight-week duration. It can be combined with chemotherapy in case of a more advanced stage of cancer.
- Targeted therapy
Targeted therapy uses drugs that will bind to specific proteins on cancer cells and interfere with their growth. It can be effective in both early and advanced stages of cancer.
Many treatments make it difficult or painful to eat and swallow, leading to poor appetite and weight loss. Patients undergoing treatment should discuss their diet with a doctor or nutritionist to plan a menu that provides the body with the necessary calories, vitamins, and minerals.
Identifying risk factors and putting lifestyle changes into practice will give an individual a clear advantage in preventing oral cancer.
For individuals that find themselves dealing with signs and symptoms of oral cancer, the medical field reminds them that it does not have to be a death sentence. Keep a positive outlook and stay active in life. Consult with a doctor or dentist for a diagnosis of your condition.