Oral cancer refers to any of the possible cancers that can occur in the mouth, such as on the lips, gums, and tongue.
There were approximately 700 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed in Australia in 2021, so while this is not a highly common illness, it is important to check for the early warning signs so that it can be addressed as soon as possible when it does occur.
That’s why it’s important to be seen by a professional who knows what to look for, and that’s why our National Dental Care and DB Dental dentists routinely perform visual and tactile inspections during our routine dental check-ups to look for potential signs of oral cancer.
What is oral cancer?
Oral cancer, also known as mouth cancer, can actually be any number of cancers. These can affect your:
- Roof or floor of the mouth
When detected early enough, the survival rate for oral cancers is as high as 90%, which is why it’s so important to not just keep an eye out for any potential signs yourself, but to be seen by a professional who knows what to look for.
What are the common symptoms of mouth cancer?
Mouth cancer can be hard to spot in the early stages, but becomes more obvious with noticeable symptoms as it spreads.
These are some of the common symptoms of oral cancer:
- Sores around your lips or mouth that won’t heal
- Lumps inside your mouth
- General pain somewhere in your mouth
- Pain when swallowing
- Red or white patches inside your mouth
- Loose teeth
Just because you have some of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean you have mouth cancer, as they can be caused by a number of reasons.
However, if your dentist spots any of these symptoms and cannot be sure of their cause (such as loose teeth due to periodontitis), they may refer you to a specialist to have a biopsy and rule out cancer as a cause.
During your dental appointment, your dentist will be on the lookout for any of the visual symptoms and warning signs of mouth cancer.
Detect mouth cancer early with an oral cancer screening
A National Dental Care or DB Dental practitioner performs oral cancer checks at each examination.
The check aims to find any signs of cancer in your mouth early, so necessary medical treatment can begin as soon as possible. During each examination, your dentist will look for any changes in your soft tissues such as the tongue, floor of mouth, lips, and cheeks.
If you have any unusual lumps or lesions in your mouth that have been there for more than two weeks, or have had difficulty swallowing during this time, tell your dentist so they can take a closer look.
Make sure you keep your regular dental check-ups so that you frequently have a professional look for any potential warning signs.
Why is it important to screen for mouth cancer?
Early detection of mouth cancer is absolutely vital. Here’s why it’s important to regularly screen for oral cancer.
- Early detection offers the best odds for survival: Early detection of oral cancers give the patient good odds for survival, at up to 90% when the issue is detected and treated straight away.
- Oral cancers can happen to anyone: Oral cancers can happen to anyone, and more young people are being diagnosed as the prevalence of HPV has meant that a wider portion of the age group is at risk.
- Peace of mind: With a professional checking your mouth at regular intervals for signs of oral cancer, you can have the peace of mind of doing what you can to avoid late detection.
How does an oral cancer screening work?
If you have been to a dental check-up recently, it’s more than likely that you’ve already been having basic oral cancer screens.
When you visit your National Dental Care or DB Dental dentist, they will visually inspect your mouth for any signs of oral cancer, such as sores, uneven tonsils, and white or red spots. They may also do a tactile inspection, including feeling your neck to assess for any unusual lumps.
If your dentist notices anything that looks amiss, they may send you for a biopsy. In this case, you will see a specialist who will take a sample of the affected area (such as a sore) to test for cancer.
How much does an oral cancer screening cost?
For the standard oral cancer screening, where your dentist checks for signs, this cost is included as part of your dental check-up.
If you need a biopsy, it will be covered by Medicare, so you can focus on your health instead of the bill.
What to expect from your mouth cancer screening appointment
Your mouth cancer screening appointment doubles as your dental check-up appointment with your dentist, so here’s what to expect.
- Brush and floss your teeth before you arrive
- Your dentist will do a visual inspection of your teeth, gums, and mouth
- Your dentist will do a tactile inspection of your neck to feel for anything amiss
- Your dentist will take an x-ray of your mouth
- If your dentist sees anything concerning, they will refer you for a biopsy
Whether you want to look out for the health of your teeth or ensure a professional is checking your mouth for signs of oral cancer, get in touch with a dentist to arrange for a regular check-up.
Find your nearest dental practice and get in touch today to schedule an appointment.