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How dentists can play a vital role in mouth cancer awareness

Learn how dentists can play a vital role in detecting mouth cancer through regular screenings & educating the patients.

Mouth cancer, also known as oral and oropharyngeal cancers, affects many individuals globally, making it a significant health concern. However, there's a silver lining. Early detection and timely intervention can save lives. We’ll look at the role dentists play in early detection of mouth cancer, why their involvement is critical and what you as a patient stand to gain from this vigilance. 

Dentists are uniquely positioned to identify signs of mouth cancer during routine check-ups, thanks to their expert knowledge and advanced technologies. They can spot early warning signs, such as unusual mouth sores, growths or changes in the mouth's tissues that patients themselves might miss. 

By conducting regular oral cancer screenings, dentists can detect mouth cancer at an early stage, when it is most treatable.  As a patient, making regular dental check-ups a priority and being vigilant about changes in your oral health can make all the difference in treating mouth cancer.

Our approach at Aspen Dental is comprehensive: we use the latest screening tools to identify early signs of mouth cancer, ensuring you receive timely and effective care. We're also passionate about breaking down the complexities of dental care and focusing on awareness, helping our patients decrease the risks of serious oral health issues before they escalate. 

Fluorescence technology mouth and oropharyngeal cancer screening on patient.

What is oral cancer?

Mouth cancer refers to cancers that develop in the oral cavity, including the lips, the undersurface of the tongue, the inside of the cheek, the throat and the gums. These are areas readily accessible to dentists during routine exams, making them first responders in the ongoing battle against oral cancer. With over 54,000 new cases diagnosed annually in the United States alone, the role dentists play in early detection is pivotal to ensure timely treatment and a higher possibility of better patient outcomes. 

What causes oral and oropharyngeal cancer?

The risk factors for mouth cancer form a familiar list, ranging from the influence of lifestyle choices to genetics: Some of the risk factors are:

  • tobacco use in all its forms

  •  chronic sun exposure (mainly a risk for mouth cancer affecting the lips)

  •  excessive alcohol consumption 

  • exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV) 

  • genetics and your family dental history 

At Aspen Dental, we don't just acknowledge these risks; we actively educate our patients about them, empowering patients with dental hygiene education and knowledge they need to reduce their risk for mouth cancers and other oral health issues. 

 Graphic with icons and text Tobacco Alcohol HPV Genetics Sun

Dentists’ role in early detection and cancer awareness

Dentists and hygienists are your first line of defense in the fight against mouth cancer. Routine dental visits extend beyond cavity treatment and tooth care. Dental professionals are trained to spot early signs of oral cancer, making regular check-ups a critical component of early detection and intervention. The screening process involves comprehensive exams, palpation for abnormalities and fluorescence screening technology that highlight precancerous or cancerous cells.

Understanding the importance of dental visits as opportunities for oral cancer screening is crucial. These appointments are not just for addressing immediate dental needs but are a proactive measure in safeguarding your overall health. The techniques used by dentists to detect signs of mouth cancer are both sophisticated and effective, making these professionals indispensable in the early detection and prevention strategy against this devastating disease.

By making these visits a priority, individuals take an active step towards not only maintaining their dental health but also educating themselves on the potential threat of cancer. Regular interactions with your dentist empower you with the knowledge and support needed to tackle oral cancer head-on, should it ever arise. 

Symptoms of mouth cancer: what to watch for

The tricky aspect about mouth cancer is that many symptoms mimic those associated with less severe oral conditions. Symptoms can include:

  • persistent hoarseness

  •  a lump or thickening in the oral tissues 

  • dramatic weight loss 

  • white or red patches that don’t heal

Knowing the difference and recognizing when to seek professional advice can be lifesaving. 

Yet one must exercise caution not to self-diagnose, as only biopsy can definitively confirm the presence of mouth cancer. It’s still important to be aware of possible oral cancer manifestations and being educated and empowered through strong and healthy oral hygiene habits, like routine dental exams, to help patients like you to respond to possible abnormalities sooner rather than later. 


Oral cancer awareness and risk reduction

While it's true that there's no guaranteed way to prevent cancer entirely, making informed, healthy lifestyle choices can significantly lower the risk of developing mouth cancer. Key to this effort is the adoption of rigorous oral hygiene practices. By quitting smoking and moderating alcohol consumption, individuals can drastically cut their risk factors. Smoking is a leading cause of mouth cancer, and cutting out tobacco can have immediate health benefits. 

In addition to avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol, maintaining a diet rich in nutrients may help lessen health and oral issues in the future. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can bolster the body's defenses against cancer. These foods are rich in antioxidants and other compounds that help protect cells from damage that could lead to cancer. 

Consistent brushing and flossing are also paramount in maintaining oral health, which, in turn, can reduce the risk of mouth cancer. Proper oral care helps prevent the buildup of plaque and bacteria that can lead to oral diseases, creating a healthier environment in the mouth that's less conducive to cancer development. Oral hygiene and positive and healthy lifestyle choices is a holistic and preventative approach to reducing cancer risk. 

To recap, positive oral health choices include:

  • no smoking and cutting out all tobacco products 

  • reducing alcohol intake

  • nutrient-dense and healthy diet

  •  routine dental visits 

  • strong oral hygiene habits

  • vigilant education and awareness surrounding oral health 

Dental professional Belangie Perez-Torres advocates for regular dental exams to help reduce mouth cancer.

Advanced techniques in oral cancer screening

The evolution of dental technology has ushered in new methods for early mouth cancer detection. Fluorescence imaging and saliva diagnostics represent cutting-edge advancements, enhancing the ability to differentiate between healthy and affected tissues at earlier stages. 

Aspen Dental has been at the forefront of integrating these advanced technologies into clinical practice. Our experts are ADA compliant in their approach to thorough and comprehensive cancer screenings, using advanced technologies like fluorescence to detect signs of mouth and throat cancer, also known as oropharyngeal cancer. Leading Aspen Dental in this cause is Belangie Perez-Torres, award-winning Director of Hygiene Strategy and Operations at Aspen Dental.

"As of 2019, the American Dental Association requires oral cancer screenings to include the head and neck to better detect oropharyngeal cancer, as well. This policy expansion is especially important given the rise in oral and oropharyngeal cancers over the past two decades," says Perez-Torres.

"As a result, preventative dental exams by hygienists and dentists are more important than ever. Dental care providers are the first line of defense against both oral and oropharyngeal cancers. Fortunately, the tools have vastly improved, making oral cancer detection easier for both providers and patients." 

With a network spanning over 1,100 locations, Aspen Dental has made significant strides in making early mouth cancer detection more accessible to diverse communities. By fostering an environment that prioritizes innovative care, Aspen Dental not only enhances the effectiveness of oral cancer screenings but also contributes to a broader understanding and awareness of this critical health issue. 

miling patient looking at dental x-ray results with dentist.

The power of awareness and education 

Education empowers and is the first step in taking your oral health seriously. Aspen Dental emphasizes informed decision-making by ensuring patients fully comprehend their dental health and the treatment options available during their visits and through our resource center.

Exterior view of Aspen Dental office building.

How to schedule an oral cancer screening at Aspen Dental

Scheduling your screening: Arranging an oral cancer screening at Aspen Dental is straightforward. You can schedule your appointment through our website or by calling your local Aspen Dental office directly. Our staff will work with you to find a time that fits seamlessly into your schedule. 

What to expect during your screening appointment: During your screening, a dental professional may offer you an enhanced oral cancer screening using fluorescence technology to better observe deep tissue abnormalities. This includes checking for any lesions, abnormal tissue changes or anything out of the ordinary. The process is quick, non-invasive and crucial for early detection. 

We encourage everyone to take proactive steps towards maintaining their oral health. Regular screenings for oral cancer can be lifesaving. By detecting potential issues early, you significantly increase the chances of successful treatment. 

Aspen Dental’s fight against mouth cancer

We believe in empowering you in maintaining your oral health through a comprehensive approach involving both holistic habits and technological advances. At Aspen Dental, your well-being is our top priority, and we dedicate ourselves to providing care that centers on you. This dedication highlights the vital role of regular dental check-ups, which are key not only to maintaining your oral health but also to the early detection and prevention of serious conditions like oral and oropharyngeal cancer. 

In our commitment to providing comprehensive dental care, all under one roof, we focus on educating you and our community about the importance of oral health and its impact on your overall well-being. Encouraging regular dental visits, we strive to increase awareness about the risks of mouth cancer, emphasizing that early detection through these check-ups can greatly improve your chances of successful treatment. 

Take a step towards protecting your health and schedule a dentist visit with us today. Let's work together to keep your smile bright and your health in check. 

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