Each year the month of November is Mouth Cancer Action Month, supported by the Oral Health Foundation and Mouth Cancer Foundation. At Kennett Road Dental, we take this opportunity every year to promote oral health and encourage our patients to become mouth cancer aware!
Our previous blogs tell you everything you need to know about mouth cancer and why you should care about mouth cancer action month.
In this blog, we wanted to take the opportunity to arm you with all the information you may need about your mouth cancer screening. Walking you through the steps taken in your routine hygiene appointments and oral cancer screenings and what you can expect after your screening is complete.
After you have digested this information, we hope that you are entirely prepared for your screening and that we have answered any potential questions you have.
What is an oral cancer screening?
An oral cancer screening is an examination by your dentist or doctor which looks for signs of cancer or precancerous abnormalities in your mouth. You may not be aware of this but we carry out an oral cancer screening at every dental health examination appointment.
Cancer screenings should occur before symptoms begin to show, according to the National Cancer Institute. This is why most dentists will perform a mouth cancer screening during your routine dental visits but can also perform these on request as a precautionary measure for those at higher risk of mouth cancer or if you discover any changes in your mouth that need to be checked.
Oral cancer screenings are performed to reassure you that there are not any apparent problems or signs of cancer or to trigger early investigation or treatment if needed.
It is the perfect opportunity to air any concerns and fears you may have about mouth cancer to your dentist. You can ask any questions you may have, and your dentist will aim to arm you with the best information you need to put your mind at ease and identify any lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your chances of mouth cancer in the future.
Your oral cancer screening
A comprehensive screening can take less than two minutes, quicker than brushing your teeth!
The screening will cover your whole oral cavity and connected tissue which includes all areas of the head and neck.
There are two main aspects of an oral cancer screening, visual and physical.
The visual exam
To ensure your dentist can examine your entire mouth, you should remove any dentures or dental appliances.
During the visual exam, your dentist will observe your face, neck, ears, lips, jaw, cheeks, nose, and oral cavity, looking for abnormalities, including:
- Colour changes
To perform the visual exam, your dentist will use a light and mirror to see further into the mouth. They’ll also more than likely ask you to say “ahh” to expose difficult-to-see areas in your throat.
The physical exam
Mouth cancer in its early stages is usually painless, which is why touch is imperative for your dentist to feel for any unusual masses or nodules.
Your dentist will check your mouth, face, and neck during the physical exam.
What to expect after your oral cancer screening
It is important to remember that usually, a mouth cancer screening is precautionary instead of diagnostic, meaning it is more common than not to leave with your dentist or hygienist not having found anything abnormal during your exam. If this is the case, then you can carry on as normal. Keep up with your normal examination and dental hygiene appointments, regularly returning for further screenings, especially if you are at greater risk of developing mouth cancer.
If abnormalities are found during your screening, you may be referred for further testing. It is important to remember that this does not necessarily mean a cancer diagnosis and if cancer is found, then this early diagnosis could reduce any treatment-related health problems later. At Kennett Road Dental Practice, we prefer to be proactive and investigate anything unusual, no matter how innocent it looks.
The number of mouth and throat cancer diagnoses has been rising over the last several years, and now more than ever, we recognise the importance of early detection. Between dental visits, you can do your part to spot the signs of mouth cancer.
Spotting the signs of mouth cancer
Look at the roof and floor of your mouth under your tongue, cheeks, gums, lips, tongue, and tonsils for ulcers that do not heal within three weeks and red or white patches. You should also check your head and neck to identify any unusual lumps and swellings.
Mouth cancer can affect anybody, and it’s important that we all know what to look out for. If you notice any changes in your mouth, please speak to a dentist or doctor immediately.
How to check for changes in your mouth, head, and neck
Run your finger on the roof of the mouth to feel for any lumps. Repeat on the floor of the mouth.
- Look for any changes in the colour or texture of the surface.
- Check the sides for any swellings, changes in colour, or ulcers.
- Examine the underside also.
- Pull down the lower lip and look for any sores or changes in colour.
- Use your thumb and index finger to feel the lips for lumps or changes in texture.
- Look out for red, white, or dark patches.
- Put your index finger inside the cheek and your thumb on the outside.
- Squeeze the cheek to check for any lumps, tenderness, or ulcers.
Head & Neck:
- Do both sides look the same? Look for any lumps or swellings that are only on one side of the face.
- Feel and press along the front and sides of the neck. Can you feel any lumps?
What are the risk factors for mouth cancer?
There are several risk factors that increase your chance of developing mouth cancer. By understanding your own risk, you can make positive changes to reduce your chances of being diagnosed with mouth cancer. It is important to note that these risk factors do not mean that you will develop mouth cancer but simply increase your chances.
- Smoking tobacco increases your risk by up to ten times. This includes cigarettes, pipes, or cigars and vaping.
- Excessively drinking alcohol is linked to 1/3 of all mouth cancers. Guidelines recommend 14 units per week maximum.
- The human papillomavirus (HPV), spread through oral sex, is now one of the main causes.
- Chewing and smokeless tobacco, such as gutka, betel quid, zarda, snuff and nass.
- 1/3 of mouth cancers are linked to a lack of vitamins and minerals from an unhealthy diet.
- Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a cause of skin cancer and can develop on the lips or ears.
Who is at greater risk of developing Mouth Cancer?
- Those who have had a mouth cancer.
- Those who have previously had other types of cancer especially oesophageal and skin cancer.
- Those who have had a close relative diagnosed with the disease have a slightly increased risk.
- Links have been found for those with genetic conditions affecting the bone marrow, skin, or fingernails.
- Those undergoing treatment for HIV or AIDS and those taking medication after organ transplants.
So, be vigilant in checking for changes in your mouth, decrease your risk factors if you can and ensure you make and attend regular appointments at Kennett Road Dental.
Be mouth cancer aware and share your knowledge to help others!