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Why You Need Routine Screenings for Oral Cancer

Why You Need Routine Screenings for Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is a dangerous and deadly disease that affects thousands of Americans each year. The condition often isn’t identified until it’s too late, and often receives less attention than other types of cancers, making it easily overlooked.

In most cases, symptoms are not noticeable in their earliest stages. Seeing a dentist regularly could save your life. Because your dentist is familiar with your oral anatomy and maintains a series of records that document changes in your tissues over time, they’re more likely than anyone else to pick up on the fact that cancer may be present. The sooner a precancerous or cancerous growth is identified, the faster you can get treatment.

Dentists don’t just screen for cancer inside of your mouth, either. They also examine your lips, face, and neck for symptoms of pathology. As head and neck specialists, your dental team is one of the best resources to have by your side. 

Oral Cancer Risk Factors

For years, alcohol and tobacco use has been linked with oral cancer. But now we also know that people who wouldn’t otherwise use alcohol or tobacco products are also at risk of getting oral cancer, from factors like sun exposure and certain types of viruses. For instance, HPV (the same virus that’s responsible for cervical cancer) can also cause oral cancer, and may even be spread through non-sexual contact such as deep throat kissing.

Simply put, even if you don’t use products or have lifestyle habits that are traditionally linked with oral cancer, you should get screened regularly just to be safe.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Typical characteristics of cancerous growths in the mouth, head, and neck tend to resemble:

  • Sores that have trouble healing (taking more than two weeks)
  • Patches or growths with irregular borders or surface texture
  • Lumps or knots that feel fixed in the skin, along the lymph nodes
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Red or white tissues that differ from those on the other side of the mouth

Get Checked Every Six Months

When it comes to cancerous growths in the mouth, head, and neck, diagnosis without the help of a dental or medical professional is difficult. Sadly, most people never realize they have a problem until their cancer has advanced to moderate or more severe stages of the disease.

Seeing your dentist regularly is one of the best ways you can protect yourself, even if you don’t have any natural remaining teeth! As part of your bi-annual exam, your dentist and/or the hygienist will screen for precancerous and pathological growths at their earliest stages. The sooner abnormal tissues are identified, the better the chance you have at recovery.

Dentists and Dental Hygienists (the equivalent to a Registered Nurse when it comes to the medical field) are both extensively trained in identifying oral pathology. As such, if you suspect any type of cancerous growth in and around your mouth, your dentist’s office is one of the best places to get checked out.

Treatment for Oral Cancer

Most oral cancer treatments (after diagnosis by your dentist) begin with treatments from a team consisting of an oral surgeon and an oncologist. Surgery of the cancerous growth may be recommended, in addition to radiation and/or chemotherapy.

It’s important to note that treatment for oral cancer can lead to shut-down of saliva glands in and around the mouth, causing dry tissues and significantly increasing the risk of tooth decay and loss. Partnering with your dentist is one of the most important steps to preserving your teeth throughout the process.

Is an Oral Cancer Exam Covered by Insurance?

Depending on the type of oral cancer exam being conducted by your dentist, it may be at no-cost or a low fee (such as $45-50.) Given the technology and resources for cancer exams can vary from one office to the next, you will need to check with your dentist to find out if there’s an itemized procedure fee for your exam. Regardless, the modest price is worth it when it comes to saving your life!

Fortunately, most patients have access to covered dental exams every six months under their dental insurance policy. But if you don’t have coverage through your employer, you can get discounts of 15-50% off routine services through a dental savings plan. Members of discount dental plans can receive savings at any participating dentist’s office nationwide.

For more information about dental savings plans, please visit

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