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  • Writer's pictureKelly White

Understanding the Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings


Oral health encompasses more than just maintaining clean teeth and treating cavities. It also involves monitoring the health of all the tissues in your mouth, as they can be vulnerable to bacterial buildup, exposure to toxins, and viral infections. In addition to routine dental checkups that focus on teeth and gums, your dentist may also perform an oral cancer screening. While the word "cancer" can be alarming, early detection of oral abnormalities can be life-saving. Let's delve into what an oral cancer screening entails and why it's crucial.

What Is an Oral Cancer Screening?

An oral cancer screening is a brief examination conducted by your dentist during a regular dental appointment to search for signs of precancerous conditions or cancer within your mouth. This examination includes observing red or white patches and sores and feeling for lumps or other irregularities in your mouth, throat, and neck. Some dentists may even perform additional tests designed to identify abnormal cells in your oral tissues. The primary objective is not to incite fear but to identify precancerous or cancerous conditions early enough for effective intervention, increasing the chances of successful treatment.

Risk Factors for Oral Cancer:

Several factors can contribute to the development of oral cancers, including:

  1. Tobacco use, which encompasses smoking, vaping, chewing tobacco, and snuff use.

  2. Heavy alcohol consumption.

  3. Excessive tanning and prolonged sun exposure, which can elevate the risk of lip cancer.

  4. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

  5. History of previous oral cancer diagnoses.

It's essential to note that if your dentist identifies an abnormality within your mouth, throat, or neck, they will recommend further testing. Most oral sores are non-cancerous, and an oral cancer screening alone cannot conclusively determine if a sore or lump is cancerous. To confirm cancer, additional tests like tissue sampling and biopsies are necessary. Regrettably, not all oral cancers can be detected through an oral cancer screening.

The Increasing Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings:

The incidence of throat and mouth cancers has been on the rise over time, making it crucial to pay attention to any changes in your oral health and promptly report them to your dentist during your visits. While there may be differing opinions on the effectiveness of oral cancer screenings, many dentists choose to perform them because they aim to detect problems as early as possible for the well-being of their patients.

If you have concerns about your risk of oral cancer, it's advisable to discuss screening tests and lifestyle modifications with both your dentist and doctor. Early detection and awareness can significantly impact the successful management of oral cancer, underscoring the importance of regular screenings as part of your overall oral health regimen. Your dentist and healthcare provider can provide guidance on the most suitable screening schedule based on your individual risk factors and health history. Remember, proactive vigilance can save lives.

Dental Associates of West Michigan

(616) 554-5940

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