Regular dental check-ups are not just essential for preventing and treating dental issues – they also play a vital role in the detection of oral cancer. Approximately 250 New Zealanders are diagnosed with oral cancer every year. This includes throat cancer, mouth cancer, tongue cancer and jaw cancer.
Checking for signs of oral cancer is part of a regular dental check-up. Dentists examine your gums, lips, inside your cheeks, tongue, and the roof and floor of your mouth carefully for any abnormalities that could be a cause for concern. Cancer can present in many different forms, including a sore, lump or swelling, rough area, or a patch of discolouration. Other symptoms for concern are numbness, tenderness, a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down, or difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving your tongue or jaw. Be sure to tell your Dentist about any concerns or changes you have noticed – no matter how insignificant they may seem.
Many cases of oral cancer are linked to tobacco and alcohol, as well as sun exposure and a poor diet, although it is possible for anyone to be affected by it. It occurs most often in people over the age of 40, and affects twice as many men as women. Your Dentist will consider your medical history and potential risk factors, and may suggest more frequent dental appointments for patients with higher risk factors.
As with other forms of cancer, early detection is so important to increase the chance of successfully treating it. Many people assume that they would know if they had a problem in their mouths, but actually, in the early stages it is rare for oral cancer to cause pain. It can go undetected for a long time, and that’s why your Dentist is in the best possible position to identify any abnormalities.
Note that it is not possible for your Dentist to diagnose cancer during an examination, but they can identify suspicious issues that warrant further investigation. Official diagnosis requires a biopsy.
A dental examination can uncover many small issues that would otherwise turn into major problems. Your Dentist is your complete oral health expert, and regular appointments can give you invaluable peace of mind.
If you have not seen your Dentist lately, or have any concerns about your oral health, contact us today to make an appointment. We are here to help.