Oral cancer: How your dentist can help with early detection

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oral-cancer-awareness-month-logoAccording to the Australian Dental Association, oral cancer is one of the least understood conditions amongst the general public and yet, each day at least three Australians are being diagnosed with it.

“The incidence of oral cancers are increasing worldwide”, says Dr Karin Alexander, ADA Federal President.

“In Australia around three people per day are diagnosed with oral cancer. Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol are well known to be significant factors that can cause mouth cancer and the risk increases if someone both smokes and drinks.”

Along with tobacco and alcohol use, the risk of oral cancer may be increased by a poor diet that is low in fruits and vegetables; sun exposure, which has been linked to cancer of the lip; and age, as oral cancer most often occurs in people over the age of 40.

How your dentist can help

“Dentists are specially trained to do a comprehensive examination of the neck and mouth to detect abnormalities,” says Dr Alexander. “Reducing risk factors and having regularly check-ups will improve the chance that a cancer will be picked up early and adverse consequences avoided or reduced.

“Your regular dentist will keep accurate and contemporaneous records of what they observe during a clinical examination so will quickly identify any changes in the mucosa of the mouth.

Seeing that same dentist allows comparisons to be made between findings and so enables abnormalities to be quickly spotted and dealt with,” Dr Alexander adds.

“Most people have a regular medical GP that they use and it is no different with dentistry. Seeing the same dentist regularly means they get to know you and your mouth.”

The ADA recommends that a patient who notices any change to the inside of their cheeks or gums that lasts for more than three weeks should seek immediate advice from a dentist.

Possible signs and symptoms to be aware of include:

  • A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in the mouth, lip or throat
  • A white or red patch in the mouth
  • A feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Numbness in the tongue or other areas of the mouth
  • Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
  • Pain in one ear without hearing loss

You can find out more at the Oral Cancer Facts website.

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