What signs do our dentists look for during your six monthly oral examinations?
Oral cancer is a growing problem, with a rise in this sometimes fatal illness being seen around the world.
Despite smoking being on the wane, other factors such as the HPV virus, poor oral health care and, problems specific to some countries, such as the chewing of the betel nut in India, appear to be increasingly contributing to the problem.
Oral cancers most commonly occur on the lips, tongue and gums, but can also affect the salivary glands, tonsils and sections of the windpipe. Even where the disease does not prove fatal, it can have devastating effects for the patient, with problems including difficulties in swallowing, speaking, and even breathing. Although we obviously hope that none of our Cheshunt patients suffer from this disease, the reality is that no one is immune. Spotting potential signs at an early stage offers the best opportunity for early treatment to start, which, in most cases, will improve the chances of a positive outcome.
Although, at The Lodge Dental Suite, we are not qualified to actually diagnose oral cancers, we are in an excellent position to monitor the condition of your mouth at regular intervals, providing that you maintain your six monthly examinations. Amongst the signs that we look for are:
- Red and/or white patches on the tongue or in the mouth generally
- Ulcers that have not healed over time
- Lumps on the soft tissue
- Unexplained oral bleeding
- Persistent sores
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
As well as visually checking for potential signs, we may ask you questions about your lifestyle too, if we feel that this may be a significant factor in your oral cancer risk.
What causes mouth cancers?
Smoking is one of the most common causes of oral cancers. By stopping smoking or using other tobacco products such as snuff or chewing tobacco, you greatly reduce the chances of suffering from this problem. Smoking is not the only factor though, and excess alcohol consumption and the HPV virus are also growing problems.
What happens next?
If, during your checkup at our Cheshunt practice, we notice anything that is a cause for concern and can’t be explained by other reasons, such as a red mark being there because you had bitten your tongue a few days earlier, we will refer you to your GP.
It is entirely possible that any worrying symptoms that we come across could be caused by something much less serious. It is important though, that you do see your GP. No one wants to hear bad news, but if it is cancer, then the sooner you start treatment, the better.
What is the treatment for oral cancer?
If your GP is also concerned with what he sees, he will probably refer you to a specialist before any treatment is arranged. The specialist is in the best position to explain in detail, what your treatment will entail, but generally, it is likely to be from a number of options including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and oral surgery where cancerous tissue is removed.
As stated before, it is important for patients to understand that the dentist’s role is not in telling you that you have cancer. Our role is precautionary but also extremely important. If we do refer you to your GP, please do not panic, but do make sure that you act upon our advice.
And of course, your teeth and gums
Although oral cancer checks are an important part of your six monthly check up, you should not forget that failing to keep appointments also puts your teeth and gums at risk. Whilst a tooth friendly diet and a good cleaning regimen will go a long way in helping you to have a healthy mouth, your check ups should not be neglected.
Small areas of decay, or chipped or cracked teeth that you may not have noticed, or felt to be irrelevant, can all be treated in their early stages if you see us regularly. Failing to keep appointments is likely to mean that much larger cavities are formed where decay is present, or root canal infections may even occur. Chips that start off small are likely to extend and may even lead to a tooth breaking, and requiring more extensive treatment than would have been the case if treated early.
For the sake of your teeth, gums and oral health in general, please always make sure to keep your six monthly appointments. If you do have to cancel, please rearrange at the same time so that you don’t forget. We are always happy to try to find you the most convenient appointment possible, and now also offer both evening and Saturday appointments for those living a busy life.
To arrange or rearrange an appointment at The Lodge Dental Suite, please call us on 01992 643 388.