April is Oral Cancer Awareness month and regular dental care is a first line of defense against oral cancer. Falmouth Dental Arts is committed to helping raise awareness about the importance of oral cancer screenings. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, about 54,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer each year in America. Smoking is the leading cause of oral cancer, but there are increasingly more and more young people developing oral cancer due to the HPV virus. The good news is that when treated early, oral cancer has a 80-90% survival rate and regular screenings assist with early detection. At FDA, Dr. Brunacini and Dr. Karagiorgos as well as our hygienists perform oral cancer screenings during your regular check-up appointments. With the goal of raising awareness, we thought it would be helpful to discuss some of the common warning signs related to oral cancer and the different types of screenings available at FDA.
Warning Signs of Oral Cancer
A good rule of thumb is to let us know if you notice any recent changes to your mouth, teeth or gums, or experience any pain or tenderness. Beyond that, there are a few warning signs linked with oral cancer to be aware of:
- White or red patches in the mouth
- Sores that fail to heal
- Abnormal lumps in the gums or neck
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
If you discover something on your own, don’t panic. As your dental care partners, we are an essential part of your healthcare team! You can schedule an appointment with us for a prompt examination. You may wonder how Dr. Brunacini, Dr. Karagiorgos and our hygienists perform oral cancer screenings. Here is some more information on the different types of screening we perform at FDA:
Visual Oral Cancer Screening
We screen our patients for oral cancer at every hygiene appointment. Our screening methods typically include a simple visual exam of the soft tissues of the mouth. We will examine the gum tissue, lips, cheeks, and tongue. We will also palpate (gently press on) areas of the face and neck to check for any nodules or lumps. If there is an area of concern, we may offer to do a VELscope screening.
VELscope is a safe, non-invasive early detection screening device that emits a blue light that quickly allows our clinicians to identify abnormal cells before they are visible to the naked eye. The graphic below demonstrates the difference between healthy cells (Normal Epithelial Cells) and abnormal cells (Abnormal or Dysplastic Epithelial Cells), that become visible under the Blue Excitation Light.
CBCT 3D X-Ray
3D x-ray or CBCT (cone beam computed tomography) technology allows us to better visualize all of the structures within the head, neck, and mouth so that we can better assess our patients’ oral health. 3D imaging can be helpful in determining subsequent steps for the ideal treatment of a lesion.
If we have any reason for concern, the next step would be a referral to an oral surgeon for additional consultation. An oral surgeon may decide to perform a biopsy of the area for further evaluation. Most of the time, a biopsy will rule out oral cancer. However, if the biopsy is positive for precancerous or cancerous cells, additional treatment may be necessary. Throughout the evaluation and referral process, we will remain involved every step of the way to provide support and follow-up care.
If you have any questions or concerns about your oral health or the oral cancer screening process, please don’t hesitate to call us! As your dentist, we are part of your healthcare team and always happy to answer your questions!