April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s why it’s more important than ever to see your dentist regularly – especially if you haven’t come for a visit in a while.
Regular dental visits can help more than just your smile. They’re also an opportunity to check for signs of oral cancer.
Our Sun City Dentists can spot many types of cancers in the mouth and throat in their early stages during routine checkups, but the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted or delayed those opportunities for many people who either have not been able to see their dentists or have avoided visits out of fear of contracting the virus.
Oral health and preventive care are too important to delay any longer.
According to the American Cancer Society, cancer deaths dipped during the early months of the pandemic, but will likely rebound in higher numbers than expected in the months and years to come because of delays in diagnosis and treatment.
Even a delay of just a few months in diagnosing oral cancer can result in fewer treatment options and lower survival rates. The ACA estimates that 54,010 people in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with cancers of the mouth and upper throat this year and 10,850 will die from it.
Early detection saves lives
When oral cancer is detected and treated early, patients run a lower risk of treatment-related health problems and a better chance of beating it. But if fewer people are seeing their dentists regularly, it stands to reason that fewer cases will be caught early.
That’s why it is so important to know what signs and symptoms to look for and to seek professionals if you notice changes in your mouth and throat.
If you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, see a dentist or a doctor:
- A sore, irritation, lump, or thick patch in your mouth, lip, or throat
- A white or red patch in your mouth
- A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in your throat
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking
- Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue
- Swelling of your jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
- Numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth
It’s also a good idea to get to know your mouth and check it regularly in the mirror between dental visits for any changes.
About a third of oral cancers are in the tongue, but cancer (and pre-cancerous lesions) can develop in several places in the mouth and throat, so you should check your cheeks, gums, lips, and tonsils, too, as well as the floor and roof of your mouth. It’s also important to know that not all cancers make themselves known early on with pain or discomfort.
With regular self-checks, you will know if something changes or looks and feels different.
If you develop any sores or lumps that don’t improve or disappear in two to three weeks, you should get them checked out as soon as possible.
This is especially important if you have any of the risk factors. Any form of tobacco use and alcohol consumption is a known risk factor, but those who both smoke and drink heavily are at 30 times higher risk. HPV infection of the mouth and throat, believed to be transmitted through sexual contact, also increases risk. Those who have had prolonged exposure to the sun are at more risk for lip cancer, as well as skin cancer. Having a poor diet and a history of cancer are also risk factors.
The ACA says the average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 63, but they can occur in young people. Just over 20% (1 in 5) of cases occur in patients younger than 55. Men are more than twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer.
While keeping an eye out for suspicious spots and changes is your first line of defense, regular oral cancer examinations are still the best method for detecting oral cancer in its early stages.
Even if you don’t see any of these signs or symptoms in your self-checks at home, you can and should ask for an oral cancer screening at Burns Dentistry in Sun City. It is recommended that you have this kind of screening at least once a year if you are over the age of 40, but even those over the age of 20 should have a thorough screening at least every three years.
Now that Covid-19 restrictions are no longer in effect in Arizona, we are fully open and taking appointments for all of the services and treatments we offer, including checkups and cleanings, at both our Sun City and Sun City West Burns Dentistry locations.
If you are concerned about or avoiding a visit to the dentist because of Covid-19, you should know that your oral health is critical to your overall well-being and that the risk of transmission at the dentist has proven to be extremely low.