Gentle Family Dentistry: Your Partner in Oral Cancer Prevention
Welcome to Gentle Family Dentistry, your trusted source for oral health! In this comprehensive guide, Bakersfield preventive dentist Dr. Jonathan Garger explains the critical topic of oral cancer screenings. Your well-being and the health of your smile are our top priorities, and we take steps to help ensure you have all the information you need about how to protect your oral health. Learn more about the importance of getting your regular oral cancer screening by contacting Gentle Family Dentistry at 661-664-9900. You can also keep reading to discover more about how Dr. Garger can detect abnormal tissue through oral cancer screening tests.
What Is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancers or oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers, refers to a type of cancer that develops within the oral cavity, including the lips, tongue, inner cheeks, gums, the roof of the mouth (palate), and the floor of the mouth. Oral cancers can also affect the oropharynx, which encompasses the back of the throat and the base of the tongue. Oral cancer typically begins as a small, painless lesion or sore in the mouth but can progress and become more aggressive if left untreated. According to the American Cancer Society, early diagnosis of oral cancer can greatly increase the survivability rate.
Risk Factors of Oral Cancer
Common risk factors of oral cancer include:
- Smoking: Using tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco, is a well-established risk factor for oral cancer. The harmful chemicals in tobacco can damage the cells in the mouth, increasing oral cancer risk.
- Heavy Alcohol Consumption: Prolonged and heavy alcohol consumption can weaken healthy tissue in the oral cavity, and make it more vulnerable to the carcinogenic effects of other substances, such as tobacco. When combined with smoking, the risk of developing oral cancer significantly rises.
- Exposure to HPV (Human Papillomavirus): Certain strains of HPV, particularly HPV-16 and HPV-18, have been linked to an increased risk of oral cancer. Human papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted infection, and while it’s more commonly associated with cervical cancer, its presence in the mouth can lead to the development of oral cancers as well. Safe sexual practices and HPV vaccinations can help reduce this risk.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Possible signs of the presence of cancer cells in the oral cavity may include:
- Persistent Mouth Sores: Sores or ulcers in the mouth that don’t heal within a few weeks can be a sign of oral cancer.
- Red or White Patches: The appearance of red or white patches on the lips, gums, tongue, or the lining of the mouth may indicate abnormal cell growth.
- Unexplained Pain: Ongoing pain or discomfort in the mouth, throat, or ear without an apparent cause should be evaluated.
- Difficulty Swallowing: Difficulty or pain when swallowing, known as dysphagia, can be a symptom of oral cancer.
- Changes in Voice: Hoarseness or changes in the voice that persist without a clear reason could be related to cancer affecting the throat.
- Swelling or Lumps: Swelling, lumps, or bumps in the mouth, neck, or jaw may be a sign of abnormal tissue growth.
- Numbness: Numbness or loss of feeling in any area of the mouth, face, or neck should be investigated.
- Unexplained Weight Loss: Significant, unintentional weight loss can sometimes accompany oral cancer.
- Persistent Bad Breath: Chronic bad breath that doesn’t improve with oral hygiene measures might be a symptom.
- Loose Teeth: The loosening of teeth without dental disease can be a concerning sign.
It’s important to note that other conditions can also cause these signs, so experiencing one or more of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean you have oral cancer. However, if you notice any of these symptoms persisting for more than a few weeks, it’s crucial to consult with Dr. Garger by dialing 661-664-9900 for a thorough evaluation and appropriate testing.
What Is an Oral Cancer Screening?
An oral cancer screening is a thorough examination conducted by a healthcare professional, typically a preventive dentist like Dr. Garger, to check for signs of oral cancer or precancerous conditions within the mouth and throat. The screening aims to detect any abnormalities or suspicious changes in the oral tissues at an early stage when they are most treatable. Dr. Garger will perform oral cancer screenings as part of every regular dental exam, to help ensure any abnormal areas are found early.
During an oral cancer screening, Dr. Garger will:
- Examine the Mouth: This includes a visual inspection of the lips, tongue, gums, inner cheeks, palate, and the floor of the mouth to look for any unusual growths, lumps, sores, or discolored areas.
- Palpate the Neck and Jaw: Dr. Garger will gently feel the jaw, head, and neck areas for any swollen lymph nodes or masses, as these can be indicators of oral cancer.
- Utilize Special Tools: In some cases, special tools or devices may be used to aid in the examination. These tools, such as oral cancer screening light and oral cancer screening dye, can help Dr. Garger test the whole mouth and identify abnormalities that may not be visible to the naked eye.
- Discuss Symptoms and Risk Factors: Dr. Garger will inquire about any symptoms you may be experiencing, such as persistent mouth sores, pain, difficulty swallowing, or voice changes. He will also discuss potential risk factors, including tobacco and alcohol use, as well as HPV exposure.
- Recommend Further Testing: If any suspicious areas or symptoms are detected during the screening, additional diagnostic tests, such as a biopsy, may be recommended to determine whether cancer is present.
Common Tools and Devices for Oral Cancer Screenings
- ViziLite: ViziLite® is a special diagnostic tool that uses a fluorescent light to enhance the visibility of abnormal tissues in the oral cavity. During an oral cancer screening, Dr. Garger may use ViziLite to identify any suspicious areas that might require further examination.
- OralCDx: OralCDx® is a brush biopsy system that allows for the painless collection of cells from suspicious oral lesions. These cells are then analyzed to determine if they show any signs of dysplasia or precancerous changes. This testing helps aid in the early detection of oral cancer.
- Toluidine Blue Staining: Toluidine Blue dye is an oral cancer screening dye that can be applied to the oral tissues. It selectively stains abnormal or precancerous cells, making them easier to identify during an examination with an oral cancer screening light. This staining technique aids in the visualization of potential areas of concern.
- Intraoral Cameras: These small, handheld cameras provide detailed images of the oral tissues. They allow for close-up examination of any suspicious areas, and the images can be stored for future reference or consultation.
- Saliva Tests: Some screenings may involve collecting saliva samples for analysis. Changes in the composition of saliva can sometimes indicate oral health issues, including the presence of certain biomarkers associated with oral cancer.
- Thermography: Infrared thermography is a non-invasive technique that measures heat patterns in the body. It can be used to identify areas of inflammation or abnormal blood flow, which may be indicative of oral health concerns.
- Computer-Aided Detection (CAD): Advanced computer software can assist in the analysis of oral images and highlight areas of concern. This technology enhances the accuracy of screenings.