Denver, CO – April is National Oral Cancer Awareness Month and your Denver periodontist might be your best line of defense in detecting and diagnosing cancers of the mouth and throat.
Historically, oral cancer has been diagnosed through a physical exam, and in many cases, only after a patient has found a sign that has caused him concern. Your dentist or doctor would then inspect the area that was a problem, and send you for additional testing or a biopsy if it was deemed abnormal.
But your dentist should play a bigger role in the health of your mouth, and that should include a screening for oral cancer at each checkup. The first step in helping to diagnose cancer early is paying attention to the signs and symptoms of the disease. This is important because in many cases, symptoms associated with oral cancers are very subtle and can be mistaken for a normal mouth issue, such as a toothache. Signs include:
- A sore or irritation in the mouth that persists longer than two weeks
- Red or white patches in the mouth that don’t go away
- Pain, tenderness or numbness
- Lumps, rough spot, crust or eroded area
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
- Change in the way your teeth fit together
If you notice any of these signs, you should call your dentist or doctor right away. Otherwise, maintain your usual checkups, during which your dentist will perform and oral cancer screening.
A typical cancer screening will begin with your dentist or hygienist asking you a few questions. Have you noticed any changes in your mouth or throat, such as sore areas, problems swallowing, etc.? Have there been any changes in your voice, such as hoarseness? Have you had any unexplained lasting earaches that seem to only occur on one side? If you have noticed any chances in your mouth, such as white or red spots, or a sore that hasn’t gone away, be sure to discuss these with your dentist.
Your dental professional will then complete a physical examination. During a physical exam, your dentist will look for any abnormal signs in your face, lips, neck and mouth that could mean cancer. It is important for your dentist to also feel your mouth and neck to check for abnormal bumps or lumps that could suggest inflammation or something more. Touch can be very important in diagnosing abnormalities that may lead to the diagnosis of cancer.
You already know that it is recommended that you maintain twice yearly appointments with your dentist to maintain your oral health. While this is important to ensure your teeth and gums are healthy, it also establishes an important relationship with your dentist. Your dentist will get to know you, and your mouth, and can spot immediately when there is an abnormality that may be a cause for concern.
Additionally, when you establish a dental home, your dentist will become familiar with any risk factors in your health history that may increase your risk of developing cancer or other health issues.
At Altura Periodontics, we are committed to providing the height of treatment to all of our patients. This is evidenced in our newest, and one of our most exciting, technologies to date. We are currently the only dental provider in Colorado to offer MOP and MOP ID testing, a quick, non-invasive oral rinse that in just 30 seconds can detect cancers of the mouth and pharynx, as well as HPV.
This new test is a great breakthrough in the detection of oral cancer. Historically, there has been a rather high death rate associated with these cancers, not because treatment is lacking, but rather because detection occurred in later stages, making the cancer harder to respond to treatment. The earlier oral cancer can be detected, the earlier it can be treated, which increases the chances of survival significantly.
While a standard oral cancer screening is recommended at your twice yearly dental checkups, it is also recommended that all patients over the age of 18 have a MOP or MOP ID test performed yearly.
MOP is the only comprehensive and preventive genetic oral cancer screen on the market today. Of the more than 40,000 people diagnosed this year, 40 percent of those could die within five years because the cancer was found in its late stages, when it is too advanced to respond well to treatment.
MOP can detect three early signs of oral cancer, including cell abnormalities, human papillomavirus and DNA damage. Changes in cells can mean an infection or precancerous condition exists. HPV can lead to some types of oral cancer, and in many cases oral HPV has no signs or symptoms. While HPV may clear on its own, if it is found, your dentist can monitor and test you more frequently to check for abnormalities. Certain types of DNA damage can increase your risk of developing oral cancer. If DNA damage is found, you will be monitored more closely to be able to diagnose oral cancer at its earliest stages, should it develop.
It is a complex and innovative genetic test that can detect cancer at its earliest stages, when it will be easiest to treat. Altura Periodontics recommends every patient over the age of 18 undergo a MOP test once a year. If you have certain risk factors, you may require additional testing.
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