What a winter it has been!
Spring is in full swing here in Carmel. Like everyone else, the turn in the weather reminds us of the important routines in our lives. Your oral hygiene should be no exception, so we’re taking this opportunity to remind you that a regular dental check-up should be part of your spring routine. It’s a good time for this reminder, because April is Oral Cancer Awareness month.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancers include cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, the floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, pharynx, and sinuses.
I Don’t Smoke; Do I Need To Be Concerned?
Absolutely! Of the 43,250 diagnoses of oral cancer that are expected this year, 25% of those cases will be people who don’t use tobacco, consume alcohol moderately, and are in general good health. In addition, the fastest growing group of oral cancer patients is people aged 25 – 50 (in other words, adults in their most active years). The reason? Three letters: HPV.
Understanding HPV’s Role in Oral Cancer
Let’s look at the numbers above for a moment. In some ways, they represent a positive shift in American’s perception of health. Historically, tobacco use was the greatest cause of oral cancer (it’s still a major cause). The fact is, fewer Americans are smoking, and more seem to be taking better care of their health in general.
HPV (Human papillomavirus) is spreading – fast. HPV is America’s most common sexually transmitted disease. 80% of us will be infected with HPV at some point in our lives. For the vast majority of people, 99% of those infected will not experience any obvious symptoms. This is what makes oral cancer so insidious. In the past, it was much easier for individuals to play a proactive role in oral cancer prevention: don’t smoke, and if you do, quit. Live a healthy lifestyle, and drink in moderation.
Because HPV is so prevalent, and because so many people may not even know that they have it, they may not be aware of the risk oral cancer poses. This means that all of us, patients and dental professionals alike, must be more vigilant. That means self-checks at home, and regular oral cancer screenings in the office.
Self-examinations at home are an important part of prevention. At least once a month, check your oral cavity and other areas for anything out of the ordinary. WebMD provides a good way of conducting a self-examination; click here to learn more. It’s a good habit to develop, and spring is a good time to make a new, good habit.
Here’s a list of symptoms you should look out for:
- Sores on the mouth which have not healed within 14 days
- Discolored areas around or in the mouth; look for areas that are white, red, or speckled
- You can feel a mass in your mouth or in your throat
- Unexplained bleeding, numbness, or pain in the face, neck, or mouth
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
- Chronic hoarseness or sore throat, or a notable change in your voice
- Ear pain (that is not accompanied by an ear infection or other explanation)
- Your teeth or dentures seem like they don’t “fit” right
- Sudden weight loss
How Often Should I Be Screened?
Good habits are a great first step, but they aren’t enough. Self-examinations aren’t a substitute for a screening by a professional. While you might catch a clear symptom on your own, ultimately they’re too difficult to identify without the proper training and experience. The American Cancer Society says that if you’re over 40, you should be getting a screening at least once a year (over twenty, once every three years is considered sufficient).
At Really Smile, an oral cancer screening is a routine part of any check-up.
What to Expect?
An oral cancer screening isn’t an involved procedure, although if your dentist does find something that doesn’t look right, he may recommend a biopsy of tissue from your oral cavity.
Remember the old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
We’re Here For You!
Make an appointment with us as soon as you can at our office in Carmel. If you’re reading this blog, and you’re in the Indianapolis area, you’re only a click away from us; just fill out this online form and we’ll do the rest! Or you can call our office directly at 317-451-4050.
If you’d like to learn more about oral cancer and the work of researchers fighting this disease, click here for the Oral Cancer Foundation’s website.