Screenings for oral cancer should take place at every regular dental visit and include visual checks of the inside of the mouth, the tongue and the lips and sometimes X-rays of the bone structure. If detected early, oral cancer may be treatable.
Would you describe what an oral screening involves and what signs of cancer you are looking for?
Dr. John Vitale: An oral screening for cancer basically encompasses two aspects. Number one, when available, we take X-rays so that we may be able to distinguish or notice any types of abnormalities in the bone structure surrounding teeth. The second aspect of an oral screening is a visual in the mouth. In the mouth, we look at the tissue around the teeth. We look at the palate, the soft palate. We look at the tongue, both the top, bottom, and sides, and also the cheeks and lips to see if there are any abnormalities forming.
What type of oral cancers are there?
Dr. John Vitale: There are a few types. The most prominent type is the squamous cell carcinoma. Some of the other ones are the varicose, the minor salivary gland cancers, and sometimes lymphomas. Those are basically the four types.
Is oral cancer treatable if caught early, in the early stages?
Dr. John Vitale: Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons why I want you to go to a dentist frequently, because a lesion in its incipient stage, or beginning stage, many times just an excision of that particular lesion and maybe a little bit of the surrounding areas will take care of your problem. If allowed to go unattended and the borders break and you get metastasis to other parts of your body, then it becomes more complicated.
Who is at greatest at risk for developing oral cancer? What are some risk factors?
Dr. John Vitale: Males are twice more affected than women. Generally, the age is 55 and over. The contributing factors are tobacco and alcohol. Those are the two main. Genetics plays a part also, but tobacco and alcohol probably are the two biggest contributing factors.
Is an oral screening conducted during every routine cleaning visit?
Dr. John Vitale: It is. In our office, it is done with every oral exam and x-rays, and also for every prophylaxis and scaling. If a person comes in and refuses x-ray and just wants a cleaning, we still do a visual inside the mouth and make sure that person is lesion-free.
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