April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month—Are You at Risk?

by | Apr 25, 2022

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month and Ashland Dental is sharing key information about how your dentist can play a key role in screening, detection, and prevention of this destructive and deadly disease. The negative impact of oral cancer cannot be understated. Left untreated, it can spread rapidly, causing great pain and removal surgeries. According to the Cleveland Clinic’s oral cancer literature: “Approximately 63% of people with oral cancer are alive five years after diagnosis.”

Early Detection is Critical to Successful Treatment.

The longer cancer is allowed to progress, the more serious the potential impact. According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, “Many who do survive, suffer long-term problems such as facial disfigurement or difficulties eating and speaking. Death rates associated with oral cancers remain high due to cancer being discovered too late in development.”

As a full-service preventative dentist focused on the complete health of each of our patients, Ashland Dental is proud to provide our patients with both screening options and educational resources for detection and prevention. Read on to learn more about risk factors, signs, and how our practice can help you with early detection.

Common Risk Factors for Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is a possibility for anyone. However, it is more prevalent in individuals with the following risk factors:

  • Individuals over the age of 40: Risk of oral cancer increases after 40. This makes screening an important part of regular preventative healthcare as we age.
  • Men: Men are twice as likely to have oral cancer as women. It is important to include screening as part of routine healthcare, particularly with the additional risk factors listed below.
  • Smokers: All smokers, whether habitual cigarette users, occasional cigar smokers (or those who work in the few remaining environments where smoking occurs) should be checked at their regular dental exams and cleanings.
  • Chewing tobacco users: Chewing tobacco users should get checked for cancer as often as fellow smokers.
  • Individuals with human papilloma virus (HPV): HPV is known to cause oral cancer. People with HPV must let their dentist know so they can be screened at their twice-yearly appointments.
  • Heavy alcohol users: Heavy and habitual alcohol use is associated with oral cancer. Heavy drinkers should schedule regular screenings with their dentist to monitor for signs of cancer.
  • Patients with a genetic history of oral cancer: Genetics play a key role in determining your risk-factor for contracting the disease.
  • Patients with long-term sun exposure: Spending a lot of time in the sun without UV protection on your lips can cause oral cancer.

A note about vaping: While there is still much research to be done on the impact of vaping on your oral health, Ashland Dental recommends that those who vape get screened as part of their routine check-up and cleaning.

Ashland Dental’s experienced team determines through screening if you have any of the risk factors listed above. Our team empowers you to make informed decisions about your oral health with the goal for early detection. This way, you get the treatment you need to prevent oral cancer. Without judgement, we happily provide resources for those interested in making changes to risk factors.

7 Signs of Oral Cancer

One of the trickier aspects of detecting oral cancer is that many signs are similar to common oral health problems. Because of this, Ashland Dental uses advanced detection tools like the VELscope Enhanced Oral Assessment to screen for disease. We will explore this more later, but first, let’s look at the seven most common signs of oral cancer.

  1. Chronic issues with bad breath
  2. Challenges with chewing, speaking, swallowing, or movement of your tongue, lips and jaw
  3. Slow-healing (or perpetual) sores in the mouth or on the lips that appear with no known cause
  4. Persistent ear pain without underlying causes like illness or ear infection
  5. Unexpected or drastic weight loss in a short period of time
  6. Persistent pain or unexplained numbness in the mouth, on the tongue or near the throat
  7. Unexplained white spots, “crusty” spots or constant dry areas within the mouth or on the lips

As you can probably see for yourself, many of these issues occur with common dental conditions such as gum disease. Additionally, many patients exhibit only one or two of the symptoms or even none at all. In fact, one of the key factors in mortality rate is that detection often comes too late. Many patients — and even some dentists — do not recognize the signs as potentially cancerous.

Fortunately, scientific advances in modern dentistry help reduce the guess factor in oral cancer screening. At Ashland Dental, we utilize the VELscope Enhanced Oral Assessment to screen our patients and prevent misdiagnosis.

What is a VELscope Enhanced Oral Assessment?

A VELscope Enhanced Oral Assessment allows your dentist to examine the tissues and gums  for signs of oral cancer. The VELscope is a wireless, handheld dental tool with a fluorescent light. With this light, VELscope enhances the way clinicians see abnormalities. Otherwise, oral cancer might not be visible to the naked eye.”

The screening with VELscope is fast and easy. For example, your dentist examines your mouth using the light. There is little to no discomfort and the process takes less than 5 minutes. Above all, this shows the condition of your mouth and if further steps are necessary.

VELscope is recognized by the World Health Organization as an important tool in helping patients get screened for oral cancer. Additionally, multiple clinical studies find it beneficial for assisting dentists in detection. Ashland Dental is proud to offer this incredible technology to our dental patients. Rest assured, our staff is highly trained in the proper procedures to maximize screenings for disease.

Let Ashland Dental Help You Determine Your Oral Cancer Risk

We recommend requesting screening during regular preventative check-ups, and you can schedule an appointment for a VELscope screening at any time. Importantly, if you have pain in your mouth or jaw or have noticed sores or discoloration, give Ashland Dental a call. We will help you set up a convenient time for this quick and easy screening!