Here at Advanced Cosmetic and Family Dentistry in Georgia, we love to stay at the cutting edge of technology. We’re always looking for ways to improve our patient’s experience by reducing treatment time and improving comfort, by strengthening your smile, and ensuring you stay healthy.
While many people tend to think of oral health focusing on bad breath and cavities, it’s important to remember that oral health can also dramatically affect your overall health. We recently discussed the surprising link between gum disease and heart health, and today we’ll talk about oral health and cancer.
One recent technological advancement we’re excited about is a new handheld, pen-sized microscope that may help us identify cancer cells earlier than ever before. Catching oral cancer early makes survival far more likely. In this instance, advanced technology isn’t just about making our jobs or the patient’s experience better; it’s about saving lives.
What Causes Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer can occur in either the mouth or back of the throat. Cancer occurs when cells in one’s mouth or lips experience mutations in the DNA. The mutations cause cancer cells to grow and divide, replacing healthy cells as they die. As the cancer cells grow and multiply, they become one large tumor and spread around the mouth or to other areas of the head, neck, and body.
While it isn’t clear what causes the mutations that lead to oral cancer, research has identified several factors that may increase the risk of mouth cancer, including:
● Tobacco use of any kind (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff, etc)
● Heavy alcohol use
● A diet that is low on fruit and vegetables
● Excessive sun exposure to your lips
● A sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV)
● A weakened immune system
● Age (oral cancer typically appears in patients over 40)
It’s important to note that the Mouth Cancer Foundation reports that 90 percent of people with oral cancer consume tobacco. Smokeless tobacco increases your chances of having oral cancer by 50 times. Combining alcohol with tobacco makes the risk even higher.
It should be remembered, however, that taking care of your mouth and body can help prevent cancer, but there are no guarantees and it could happen to anyone.
What are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
There are several signs and symptoms of oral cancer. If you experience any of these for more than two weeks, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist to get things checked out. There is a good chance you don’t have cancer, but catching it early makes treatment much easier.
Even if you don’t have cancer, there could still be an oral health issue that your dentist should be aware of and could likely solve.
Symptoms of oral cancer include:
● A sore, irritation, or lump that won’t heal or that bleeds
● A white or red patch in the mouth
● Sore throat or difficulty swallowing
● Difficult or painful chewing
● Loose teeth
● Tongue pain or numbness
● Jaw pain or stiffness
● Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
● Pain in one ear without hearing loss
As you can see, many of these symptoms could mean things other than oral cancer. Regardless of the cause, however, your dentist should be made aware of your symptoms so an adequate treatment plan can be implemented.
How Dentists Recognize Oral Cancer
An oral cancer exam is easy, painless, and only takes a few minutes. In fact, it can be part of your regular check-up and cleaning.
Your dentist will examine your gums, cheeks, face, glands, and tongue for any abnormalities or warning signs of oral cancer. Dentists are trained well and know what to look for, and they can see things that you cannot see yourself in the mirror.
If we discover anything suspicious, a quick biopsy will determine what is required for treatment, whether it be surgery or something non-invasive.
And this is where this new microscope can advance cancer cell recognition and potentially change the outcome for oral cancer patients.
The handheld device uses an innovative approach called “dual-axis confocal microscopy.” This illuminates things so dentists can actually see and capture details half a millimeter beneath the tissue surface. Since many cancer cells originate beneath the surface, dentists can recognize oral cancer earlier than ever before.
The device isn’t quite ready yet, but researchers should begin testing it in clinical settings next year. The hope then, is that this handheld microscope will be available in the next 2 to 4 years.
Whatever the timeline, you can rest assured knowing that Advanced Cosmetic and Family Dentistry will be following the news closely, looking to make sure our patients always receive the best and most advanced treatments available.
Schedule Your Oral Cancer Screening
We strongly recommend you receive a dedicated and comprehensive oral cancer screening every year. Even if you don’t recognize symptoms, it’s important to routinely check for oral cancer. In many cases, a dentist will be the first to recognize the symptoms.
As we said before, this can be added into your regular cleaning and check-up…just ask!
If you’re in the Alpharetta, GA area and are looking for a dentist who has experience and expertise in recognizing and planning treatments for oral cancer, then look no further than Dr. Silverman at Advanced Cosmetic and Family Dentistry. Our patient’s health is of the utmost importance to us, and we will give you an excellent experience.
Contact us today to schedule a check-up or an oral cancer exam.