When a dentist examines your mouth they are not only checking that your teeth and gums are healthy. It is also an opportunity for them to check places in the mouth that you would not be able to see yourself – for example, inside the cheeks and under the tongue. There may sometimes be problems in these area that the dentist would be able to spot much earlier than you would see or feel yourself.
What Are Dentists Looking For?
As well as problems with the teeth and gums they are looking mainly for early signs of mouth cancer. Every year approximately 2000 people get mouth cancer – otherwise known as oral cancer – and about 50% on average die within 5 years.* One reason the death rate is high is because the disease is often not diagnosed and treated early enough.
What Sort Of People Get Mouth Cancer?
You may be at increased risk from mouth cancer if you:
- Are over 40
- Smoke regularly and/or
- Drink alcohol regularly
The risk is increased when all three factors apply.
What Are The Early Signs?
Sometimes before mouth cancer develops, there is a ‘pre-cancer’. Although you will not be aware of this condition, your dentist would be able to see any changes upon examination of your mouth. A ‘pre-cancer’ can exist for a long time before developing into cancer and can often be painless, perhaps like a non-healing ulcer, a small lump or a persistent red or white patch, although not all white or red patches are cancerous.
Can Mouth Cancer Be Cured?
Yes – If spotted early enough and treated whilst it is still small, there is an excellent chance of a cure. However, if treatment is delayed and the cancer is allowed to become larger, then more treatment and surgery will be required.
Are Mouth Checks A New Idea?
No – Dentists have always examined your whole mouth and are keen to reduce mouth cancer deaths. One major way to achieve this is to make people aware of the disease and how the risks can be reduced by regular check-ups.
Credit to: Stafford Miller ‘Mouth cancer is more common than you think’
*Cancer research Campaign. Oral Cancer Factsheet 14.3 1993
Most mouth tumours are found on the lips and tongue but can be in other areas of the mouth too.
When you have a dental check with us, we are also checking for warning signs of cancer. Dental check-ups are recommended every six months.
If any red or white patches appear in the mouth, or any ulcers that don’t go away after a couple of weeks, you should also make an appointment for a check.
You can minimise the risk of mouth cancer by stopping smoking and staying well within the alcohol units recommended as the maximum intake by the Government.
A healthy diet will also reduce your chances of getting cancer.