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Dentists Play a Vital Role in Early Detection of a Dangerous Cancer on the Rise

While many cancers have shown a decrease in the last decade, oral cancers have only increased. According to the American Cancer Society, 53,000 will get oral cancer in 2019 and of those 53,000 people, some 10,860 will die from the disease. Oral cancer is twice as common in men as in women. Many of these cancers are caused by the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), which is transmitted through saliva. Often the HPV virus is transmitted through sexual activity and can lay dormant for years, but for others, it takes on cancerous qualities both in the cervix and the mouth.  Forty percent of these new diagnoses are young people under the age of 45 and non-smokers. The most daunting statistic of all of this is the fact that 70% of these oral cancers are found in the late stages of the disease which greatly decreases the survival rate. There is good news though-researchers in the Microbiology Society presented findings last year that HPV oral cancers are highly treatable and often curable, as opposed to those who have oral cancer due to smoking. Some of the more common symptoms are discolored patches anywhere inside or outside the mouth area, lumps in the mouth or neck, pain associated with chewing, swallowing, or speaking, and swelling/pain/bleeding anywhere around the mouth, throat and jaw.

Early detection is critical to increasing survivability from oral cancer. As standard procedure, dentists perform an oral cancer screening as part of their comprehensive and routine exam during the traditional dental cleaning. Unfortunately, this valuable service isn’t often communicated to the patient even though dentists are saving lives every day. Not that you need another reason to go the dentists, but for the 50% of consumers who don’t go to the dentist you have to admit this is a great reason to visit the dentists. Not only can dentists provide oral screens simply with visualization, but there are also tools that aid in spotting abnormalities. There are a variety of dyes and lights that will highlight an area of concern by turning a different color than healthy tissue when directed through the mouth.

One company which appears to be on the cutting edge of this technology is ForwardScience. Their OralID battery-operated hand-held light uses a technique called “fluorescence technology” by shining a blue laser light throughout the mouth and a dentist wearing special glasses is able to visualize oral mucosal abnormalities. In this instance, healthy skin fluoresces green, but abnormal tissue appears dark. Dentists can play a lifesaving role in the identification and treatment of these oral cancers. In an August 7, 2015 article titled “The Upside of Regular Vision and Dental Exams” written for the JP Griffin Group company blog, Dr Steven Offenbacher, DDS, PhD, chair of the department of periodontology and director of the Center for Oral and Systemic Diseases at the School of Dentistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is quoted as saying “Dentists and periodontists are concerned about more than saving your teeth-they are looking at how oral health fits into your overall well-being.”

Please encourage your patients and your practices to be diligent in self-examination and routine office screenings-many lives can be saved with early detection of this deadly disease.