It’s easy to come up with excuses for missing your dental checkups. However, there are many benefits to getting regular checkups. Those benefits don’t only include keeping your teeth healthy and happy. If you go for regular checkups, you may be able to prevent or fight oral cancer. Learn how your dental checkup can save your life.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is a broad term. It refers to cancer of the sinus, mouth, tongue, and lips. Like other types of cancer, this one involves the rapid growth of damaging cells. As they spread, they invade other cells and damage your tissues.
If you have cancer, it will not go away on its own. The longer it takes for you to treat it, the worse your chances are of fighting it. However, an early detection can lead to a recovery.
Because oral cancer is in your mouth, it’s difficult to see. Often, the cancer manifests itself as a sore in your mouth. But you may not be able to see it. Without a regular dental checkup, you might not know that it’s there.
How Can a Dentist Help?
There are a few ways that your dentist can help you prevent oral cancer. For one, he can tell you about different ways that you can limit your chances of oral cancer. If you have any bad habits that might increase your risk of cancer, he can advise you against those habits. He may give you the motivation to kick the habits and reduce your chances of cancer.
However, there is more that a dentist can do for you. In a regular dental checkup, a dentist looks for the early signs of oral cancer. To do this, he examines your lips and mouth. This includes the roof and floor of your mouth. Additionally, he will check your gums, cheeks, and tongue. A dentist with experience knows all the warning signs of cancer. If he sees those signs as he’s checking your mouth, he can alert you to them.
There are a few key signs for which your dentist might look. They include the following:
- Sores that bleed easily or sores that don’t heal
- Thick, hard spots or lumps
- Rough or crusty areas
- Symptoms of oral cancer, like pain and numbness
- White or red patches
- Problems chewing, speaking, or swallowing
If you tell your doctor about an issue that sounds like a symptom of oral cancer, he can help you. He can explain whether the symptom is a result of oral cancer or if it might be something else. If it is oral cancer, he can advise you on the next step.
Explaining the Risk Factors
Your dentist can also explain to you some of the risk factors for cancer. While you might already know some of them, you might not be aware of them all. Most people are well aware that smoking and drinking frequently can cause cancer. However, many people don’t realize that even drinking an average of two drinks a day qualifies as frequent drinking. Your dentist could guide you in making smarter health decisions.
Another common misconception that your dentist can advise you on relates to smokeless tobacco products. Instead of decreasing your risk of cancer, smokeless products increase it.
Here are a few other examples of risk factors for oral cancer:
- Prolonged sun exposure, which can cause lip cancer
- HPV infection
- A diet with too few fruits and vegetables
- A history of oral cancer
When you know about the risk factors of cancer, it’s easy to prevent it. If you have any questions about your own habits and the risk of cancer, your dentist can answer them.
Why My Dentist?
Many people don’t associate dentist checkups with cancer screenings. While a dentist may not be an expert on cancer, he knows the signs of it. Dental checkups are about so much more than teeth. For that reason, a dentist must know everything there is to know about oral health. He knows how to look for any signs of trouble in your face, mouth, and neck.
Your dentist isn’t the only dentist who may be on the lookout for cancer. The American Dental Association created guidelines that your dentist can use to check for oral cancer. If he finds anything during your checkup, then he might ask for another examination. Waiting helps him rule out cancer; a spot could heal on its own, meaning that cancer is unlikely. In some cases, he might immediately refer you to a doctor or specialist.
It’s important to note that your dentist cannot tell you whether you have cancer at your checkup. That requires a biopsy and a visit to a different doctor. However, your dentist can alert you to the signs. He can tell you which growths need a biopsy and may alert you to a problem before it’s too late.