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Sacramento, Calif. — As part of Oral Cancer Awareness Month in April, the California Dental Association is recommending regular dental checkups for an oral cancer screening. Dental professionals can act as a first line of defense in the early detection of oral cancer.
“Oral cancer often goes unnoticed until it has spread to another area of the body,” said Dr. Ariane Terlet, CDA president. “Dentists can identify early signs of oral cancer during regular dental checkups, which include an oral cancer screening that is essential in the detection of cancerous and precancerous conditions.”
Oral cancer can present in a number of areas in the oral cavity, including the lips, gums, cheek lining, tongue and the hard or soft palate, and often starts as a small white or red spot or sore somewhere in the mouth or on the lips. When found early, the oral cancer survival rate is 80% to 90%, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.
The American Cancer Society says about 54,000 people in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year, and most oral cancers will be caused by tobacco use. While tobacco and alcohol use are known risk factors for oral cancer, a lesser-known risk factor includes exposure to the human papilloma virus – the same virus responsible for the majority of cervical cancers in women.
It is important to conduct monthly self-exams with a bright light and mirror to look at and feel your lips, gums, lining of your cheeks, and the roof and floor of your mouth. The sides of your neck and underneath your lower jaw should also be checked for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes.
If you notice any unusual sores, white or reddish patches or lumps in your mouth that do not go away, contact your CDA member-dentist immediately for an exam. Remember, early detection is the best strategy for survival.
To keep teeth and gums healthy, CDA urges brushing two minutes, twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing regularly, avoiding sugary drinks and visiting a dentist for regular checkups to diagnose dental problems early when they are easier to treat. To help keep children free of dental pain, parents or caregivers should provide each family member with their own toothbrush, spoon, fork or cup; wipe infants’ gums twice a day with a washcloth; clean pacifiers and bottles with soap and water, not spit; put only water in a baby’s bottle at bedtime; and help children brush and floss until they have mastered the skill — usually around age 7.
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