You may know that heading to the dentist twice a year for teeth cleaning is important. During these visits, you probably know that the dentist checks to be sure that you don’t have any new decay. But did you know that having check-ups regularly is also a great time for your dentist to look for signs of oral cancer? If you are looking for an oral cancer screening in Bethesda, read on to learn more. 

What is Oral Cancer? 

According to the American Cancer Society, there are 2 types of oral cancer. These types are: oral cavity (mouth) cancer and oropharynx (throat) cancer. 

  1. The oral cavity includes the whole inside of your mouth including teeth, gums and roof of mouth. 
  2. The Oropharynx consists of the middle part of the throat just behind the oral cavity. It can be seen when your mouth is wide open. This includes your tonsils, and the side and back walls of the throat.

There are many different types of cells in the mouth and throat. Cancer in the mouth or in the throat can start in any of different types of cells. It’s important for you to know why and how the cells are different. One reason for this is because treatment of oral cancer may look different depending on what kind of cell it is and where it begins. 

Signs of oral cancer: the earliest stages

Like other forms of cancer, oral cancer it is most curable or treatable if detected in its earliest stages. In most cases, you can easily see sores, lesions or spots with the naked eye. You also might feel that something isn’t right inside your mouth or throat. Here are some of the things the Mayo Clinic says you should keep an eye out for when you do self examinations:

  • A lip or mouth sore that doesn’t heal
  • A white or reddish patch on the inside of your mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • A growth or lump inside your mouth
  • Mouth pain*
  • Ear pain*
  • Difficult or painful swallowing

It’s important to note that mouth and ear pain can also be common signs of other illnesses. For this reason, it should be included within the context of other symptoms, or that you’ve noticed these things are not going away.

If you notice one or more of these things happening in or around your mouth or throat, and it has been more than 2 weeks, you should book an oral cancer screening in Bethesda with us today. Early detection can make a big difference!

Who is at Risk for Oral Cancer?

So how do you know if you should be worried about oral cancer? There are a few things that you should think about when considering if you would be a high risk for oral cancer. Questions you might ask yourself are:

  • Do I use tobacco products regularly or occasionally (includes cigarettes, pipes, chewing tobacco etc)?
  • Do I drink alcohol heavily (drinking in moderation includes up to 1 drink for most women daily, and up to 2 drinks for most men daily)?
  • Do I have a history of extreme sun exposure? This can increase a risk for lip cancer.
  • Do I have a family history of cancer in general?

For most people, oral cancer screening will happen at their regularly scheduled dental visits. Some dentists will use additional test to look for early signs of oral cancer. You can request that your doctor does a full oral exam.

The Moffitt Cancer Center has said that oral cancer screenings should be done once every 3 years in your 20s and 30s, and then once a year in your 40s and beyond.

Early Detection

The best way to detect signs of oral cancer is to make sure your oral health is in order. This means going to the dentist regularly for routine exams. Most dentists will check your mouth during these exams for any irregularities. You can also ask your dentist to do a full oral exam.

In addition to your routine dental exams, there are other things you can do to help prevent oral cancer:

  • brush your teeth and flossing regularly
  • avoid smoking and tobacco
  • don’t drink alcohol or drink in moderation
  • keep your diet healthy
  • limit sun exposure and always wear UVA/UVB blocking sunscreen on skin and lips
  • next time you are at the dentist, ask to have a full oral exam

Early detection of most oral cancers can greatly boost your survival rate.

Although it’s great to have this conversation with your dentist, a lot of early mouth cancers are detected by self examination. In fact, we recommend that adults do a a self exam monthly to check for anything that looks out of the ordinary. Make sure you call your dentist if you notice anything different or abnormal in your mouth.

How do you prepare for an oral cancer screening?

If you are looking to get an oral cancer screening in Bethesda, our knowledgable and well-trained staff offer them at the Bethesda Dental Institute. In terms of preparation, there really isn’t anything you need to do outside of making sure you show up to your appointment.

Your dentist will look in your mouth with a flashlight and use their hands in order to see or feel any abnormalities. Sometimes it isn’t possible to see everything or the extent of everything with the naked eye. In this case, your dentist might need to order additional tests and will let you know that.

Should you be screened for oral cancer?

As you might have already guessed, no one can tell you definitively that you should schedule an oral cancer screening. As listed above, there are several different factors that position you as more “high risk” than someone else. If you are someone that has one or more of these high risk factors, it might be a good idea to talk to your dentist about a screening. If you live the DMV and are looking for an oral cancer screening in Bethesda, The Dental Institute is ready to serve and help you today.