We pride ourselves on keeping your teeth and gums free of tooth decay and gum disease. And we love helping you keep your smile bright and making it standout. But one thing that you might not expect when you visit us is that we screen for oral cancer.
Why? Because it’s deadly. While oral cancer is not as commonly diagnosed as other types of cancer, such as breast cancer, it does have a higher death rate. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, it has a mortality rate of 43%. A reason for this is that most cases aren’t diagnosed until they’ve reached more advanced, difficult to treat stages.
So what is oral cancer? It’s a cancer that can develop in the mouth or in the back of the throat. This area includes lips, gums, cheeks and tongue.
Fortunately, oral cancer has a survival rate between 80 and 90 percent when it’s detected at an early stage. And there are some things you an do, and some things we can do too, so that you reduce your risk for getting oral cancer, or get it detected early.
6 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Oral Cancer
- Don’t Miss Your Dental Exams + Cleanings Screening for oral cancer is an important part of the routine preventative dental care we offer. Every time you come in for your check-ups and teeth cleanings, we examine you for any signs of cancer or precancerous conditions within your mouth. And if you need a more thorough screening we also offer the VELscope exam. This screening is optimal for some patients based on their age, health or family history. The VELScope is a non-invasive handheld screening device that uses a fluorescent light to examine your mouth’s tissues for any abnormalities. If there are any areas of suspicion, we will request a biopsy with standard pathology tests. We recommend this simple test for many of our patients as an extension of their regular dental exams.
- Screen at Home – You can screen for it as part of home oral hygiene routine. Look for changes in the soft tissues of your mouth. Check your tongue for any signs of red or white patches, and for lumps. Don’t forget to examine your lips and cheeks for lumps or bumps too. And look over your gums for any changes in color or texture. Healthy gums look pink and firm. If you’re not sure what to check for, or want some assistance, please ask us when we see you. We’re happy to show you!
- Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables – Eating more fruits and vegetables as part of your daily diet is a great way to help reduce your risk. Make sure to include fruits and vegetables that offer carotenoids – bright red, orange and green fruits and vegetables (sweet potatoes, watermelon, beets, mangos, carrots). Don’t hold off on the broccoli either! Cruciferous veggies, such as kale, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, offer enzymes that promote detoxification of chemical carcinogens that can cause cancer, like tobacco smoke.
- Steer Clear of Tobacco – Speaking of smoke, avoid smoking or chewing tobacco. That’s a great way to reduce your oral cancer risk. And if you imbibe with cannabis, don’t smoke it either.
- Drink in Moderation – Consuming more than 15 alcoholic beverages per week can increase your risk for oral cancer.
- Protect Your Lips from the Sun – You might not realize, but your lips are connected to your oral health. Lip cancer can damage your smile. Whenever you’re out in the sun, working or playing, you can reduce their exposure to harmful UVB rays by applying an SPF lip balm. SPF 15 filters about 93% of UVB rays, and SPF 30 filters out around 97%.
Early Detection Saves Lives
As you can see, there are quite a few ways you protect yourself from oral cancer, as well as detect it early. Staying mindful of oral cancer and regularly screening for it are all important steps to improving the survival rates from this disease.
If it’s been a while since you’ve had an examination that included an oral cancer screening, or you’d like to request a VELscope screening, please let us know – just call us at (206) 524-1000 to schedule your appointment, or make a request online.
P.S. Learn more about oral cancer and the VELscope exam.