PLEASE, Stick Your Tongue Out at Your Dentist

Kim McCrady

Kim McCrady RDH, BA

Dedicated to Phil Swanson and his courageous family

     Come on, you know you have always wanted to stick your tongue out at your dentist and or your hygienist. Honestly, we invite you to be as impolite as possible. During the oral cancer-screening portion of your dental check up we need and want to see as much of your tongue, tissues, lips, and throat as we can.

Oral Cancer Risk Factors

     Unfortunately, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation, cancers of the tongue, lips, cheeks, throat and floor of the mouth are on the rise and have been for the last five years.   In fact, one person passes away every hour from oral cancer.  Those at the highest risk for oral cancer are people with past or current tobacco use habits.  Patients with a family history of oral cancer and men are at a greater risk for oral cancer than women.  The latest consideration as a causative factor for oral cancer is the human papilloma virus (warts) in the oral cavity.  Other listed risk factors include heavy alcohol consumption and over-exposure to the sun.  However, there are many people with oral cancer who will have none of the major known risks factors.

Signs and Symptoms

     There are some signs and symptoms of oral cancer, but most are not detectable until the later stages of development. The National Cancer Institute lists a few of the symptoms of possible oral cancer.  They are patches of tissue that become white or red or a combination of white and red.  Sores on the inside or outside of the lips, mobile teeth, difficulty or pain when swallowing.  If you wear dentures, pain while wearing your dentures can be a warning sign.  Lumps in your neck, along your jawline, behind your ears, pain in your ear that does not subside and lumps in the floor of the mouth are also possible symptoms of oral cancer. 

Oral Caner Screening

     Your dentist and hygienist will check your tissues by having you stick out your tongue.  We catch your tongue with a piece of gauze and will pull it from side to side. We will ask you if you have noticed any sores in your mouth that have been present for more than two weeks.  We will have you touch the roof of your mouth with the tip of your tongue so we can easily view the underside of your tongue.  We also evaluate the inside of your cheeks, lips, floor of the mouth and the back of your throat is also examined. Even the lymph nodes in your neck and along your jawbone need to be checked regularly for abnormalities.  We also check your face, neck and lips for abnormal changes.

     Luckily, new technology is available for oral cancer screenings.  Our office uses a piece of equipment called, the VELscope.  The VeELcope allows the doctor to see changes in the tissue using fluorescence.    This technology allows the doctor to detect changes in the tissue earlier than he can with the naked eye.   Like most technology, we are confident these tools will continue to evolve in accuracy and be used more and more in dental offices.  It is our office philosophy to stay aware of these changes in technology and make them available to you.

Diagnosis and Treatment

     If a suspicious area is detected during your oral cancer screening, your dentist will refer you to an oral surgeon, ear nose and throat specialist or a dermatologist for evaluation and probable biopsy of the area in question.  If you are diagnosed with an oral cancer, treatment will likely vary depending upon the stage of the cancer.  Surgery, radiation, targeted therapy and chemotherapy are often used in combination as treatments.  Early detection and immediate treatment is critical to survival.  Prognosis in a latter stage of development is poor because oral cancers spread (metastasize) quickly to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body as they grow. 

Prevention

     Decrease your risk of oral cancer by reducing your alcohol intake, commit to tobacco cessation.  If you need help quitting, contact your doctor or contact a support program like Ashline.  Be proactive, check your tongue and tissues at home regularly and report to your dentist immediately if you find any concerning areas in your mouth.  The ADA estimates 60% of the US population will see a dentist each year.  This means dental professionals are your partner providers in early detection.  When you see your dentist and your hygienist at your regular visit, insist on an oral cancer screening.  Our office takes oral cancer screening seriously and we invite you to, “PLEASE, stick your tongue out at your dentist!”

 

The Oral Cancer Foundation:  http://oralcancerfoundation.org

National Cancer Institute:  http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/oral/page1

Ashline: http://www.ashline.org

Oral Surgeons and the VELscope system:  Partners in Early Detection and Diagnosis:  http://www.velscope.com/upload/VELscopeVX_Oral_Surgeons.pdf

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