This month I would like to talk about a Disease I take very seriously and personally, it’s called Oral Cancer. It’s a disease that, according to the most recent American Cancer Society estimates, more than 48,000 people will get this year and more than 9500 people will die from. The Oral Cancer Foundation reports that of the new cases diagnosed this year, only approximately 57% of those individuals will be alive in five years. Oral cancer is typically discovered in its late stages, which leads to a high death rate in those that have it. And because the disease can grow and develop without the patient noticing any obvious symptoms, there is less of a chance it will be diagnosed in the early stages.
I believe consumers need to be educated about the value of a routine dental appointment and it’s not just about getting your teeth cleaned or fixing a chipped tooth but maintaining your overall oral health. Part of my initial exam consists of a Head and Neck evaluation, a look at all the soft tissues in the mouth visually and with the Velscope. The Velscope is a non-invasive oral cancer screening device which can aid in finding abnormalities not visible to the naked eye. The velscope technology stimulates the surface cells by a blue light which then fluoreses the tissues and can help detect any changes at the surface of the tissues. I also use an intraoral camera and retractors to photograph suspected lesions. These photos are added to the patients chart and used for comparison during follow-up appointments, and they’re sent to the oral surgeon if a referral is necessary for further evaluation.
A valuable part of each patients’ oral health visit is educating them about oral cancer risks factors, the top three being tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, and HPV (human papillomavirus). According to the Center for Disease Control, 72% of oropharyngeal cancers in the United States can be attributed to HPV. We do let patients know vaccinations are available and that if they want more details they should talk to their family physician.
I tell all my patients if they have any sore spots that they previously didn’t recognize or that are oddly shaped or growing to come in and let me take a look. I have to take these measures because oral cancer can develop rather quickly. Oral Cancer is a potentially deadly disease that can be detected early through a thorough exam, which I take great care to perform on all my patients. I like to take this time to wish all the Mother’s out there a Happy Mother’s Day.
With Oshins of Smiles,
-Dr. Steven Oshins