What is Mouth Cancer?
Mouth cancer or oral cancer is just like other cancers which are caused by problems with cell replication resulting in tumors. Over 43,000 Americans (on average 118 per day) will be diagnosed with mouth cancer this year. Unfortunately, many of them will already have advanced cancer when the disease is found. While most people think about Dentists as doctors for your teeth, dentists are actually also doctors for general oral health, including gums and soft tissues of the mouth. Dentists are the primary screeners for cancer in the mouth.
During routine cleanings and oral exams we keep an eye out for signs of oral cancer, but we also offer more extensive exams for those with high risk factors or suspicious spots in their mouth.
What Causes Mouth Cancer?
While there are numerous causes of oral cancer, these are the primary risk factors.
1. Tobacco use in any form.
2. Alcohol use, especially heavy consumption or combined with tobacco.
3. Prior diagnosis of Oral Cancer.
4. HPV16 Virus
Signs of Mouth Cancer
- Red or White discolorations in the mouth
- Sores that do not heal in 14 days
- A sore under a denture that does not heal after adjustment
- Prolonged hoarseness
- Sensation something is stuck in your throat
- Unexplained numbness in the mouth
Early Detection of Oral Cancer is Important
Oral cancer is quite deadly, partly because it produces few symptoms until the disease has progressed. In fact, sometimes it is not found until after it has spread and the cancer has been found in another location in the body. Early detection that finds the cancerous cells prior to spreading improves the 5-year survival rate from 32% to 83% according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
Oral Cancer Screening with the VELscope
Traditional oral cancer screenings are primarily visual, relying on the dentist or doctor’s trained eye to spot unusual cells in the mouth. At Smiles by Design, we use the VELscope system to enhance our ability to spot unusual cells. VELscope is a small, lighted scope that Dr. Schraw uses to look inside your mouth. The scope makes it easier to spot possible cancer by making abnormal tissue appear significantly different than healthy tissue. Dr. Schraw can then investigate any unusual tissue and, if needed, a biopsy can be performed to determine if the abnormal cells are cancerous.
For much more information about Mouth Cancer, visit the Oral Cancer Foundation