Apr 07, 2015 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

When you go to the dentist you are probably most concerned about whether you will have any cavities. Your dentist is looking for something other than tooth decay though; they are also looking for signs of cancer. “Trained dental professionals know what to look for, and can detect lesions before they become cancerous,” says Bryan Trump, DDS, MS, assistant professor with University Of Utah’s School Of Dentistry. “They also have several diagnostic tests at their disposal to help.”

There are several symptoms that may indicate a cancerous or pre-cancerous oral lesion. “It can be as simple as a sore feeling or like something is caught in your throat,” says Trump. “Or a patient may notice a red or white spot in their mouth. In more advanced cases it could be a sore that has persisted for more than two weeks.” The areas of highest risk for developing these lesions are on the tongue and the floor of the mouth.

Roughly 45-thousand cases of oral cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. As with other types of cancer, there are contributing factors that can be controlled. “Smoking and heavy drinking can increase the risk for oral cancers,” says Trump. “Exposure to the human papilloma virus can also increase risk.”

 “The most important thing is to see a dentist regularly so if there is a problem it can be caught early,” says Trump. “Too many patients who are at risk wait until there is a serious problem before seeing their dentist, and by then the interventions are more intensive.” Those interventions could include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. “Really, you should be seeing a dentist twice a year anyway for good oral health,” says Trump, “avoiding cancer is just another benefit.” 

Libby Mitchell

Libby Mitchell is the Social Media Coordinator for University of Utah Health Care. Follow her on Twitter @UUHCLibby.

oral cancer dentistry

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