You probably know that you should visit your family dentist regularly. Most dentists prefer to see patients every six months. This allows them to routinely watch out for any gum problems or cavities. Dental checkups also give the dentist the chance to check for signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer can be life-threatening if it is not found and treated early. This is why cancer screening is a vital part of every dental checkup.
Family dentist and oral cancer screenings
Seeing the dentist at least once annually can help to keep the mouth healthy. But dental providers do not always agree on the frequency patients should get oral cancer screening tests. Some dentists believe that people who are at a greater risk of getting oral cancer should consider getting checked out. Factors that increase people’s chances of getting it may include heavy alcohol use, using tobacco including smoking, using snuff or chewing dip and previous oral cancer diagnosis. Other risk factors include excessive sun exposure, chewing betel quid and some types of human papillomavirus (HPV).
What to expect
During an oral screening exam, the family dentist will look thoroughly at all the parts of the mouth. These include the lips, inside of the cheeks, gums, tongue, the roof of the mouth and the back of the throat. Denture wearers will have to take them out so that the dentist can check the tissue beneath them. Using gloved hands, the dentist will also feel the tissues in the mouth. The exam only takes a few minutes. The main purpose is to look for spots and lumps.
The family dentist will also see if anything looks unusual about the spit that covers the pink parts in the mouth. A patient who notices any of these things should seek medical attention. Some dentists also prefer to use other tests to help screen for cancer. One of the tests involves rinsing the mouth with a blue dye prior to the exam. Unusual cells in the mouth may end up absorbing the dye, which makes it easier to see them.
If there is anything unusual, scheduling another appointment a few weeks later will be recommended. At this visit, the dentist will see if anything has changed. A biopsy procedure may also be suggested. This will involve taking a small piece of tissue from a region that looks troublesome.
It will then be sent to the lab to help determine if cancer cells are present. The family dentist may perform the biopsy or send the patient to a health care provider who focuses on oral cancer diagnosis and treatment. Patients should know that not all lumps or spots dentists find turn out to be cancer. But in a case where they do, catching the condition early is very important for treatment.
If you are not sure whether you need a screening test, ask your family dentist. But having regular dental checkups is very important. It will allow your dentist to catch signs of oral cancer, which means you will be able to get early treatment. Scheduling dental appointments every six months is often encouraged.
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