With passing of Tony Gwynn, CDA shares oral cancer resources

With the passing of Major League Baseball great Tony Gwynn from mouth cancer, CDA reminds dentists that there are many resources available to help their patients stop using tobacco and smokeless tobacco products.

Though Gwynn's mouth cancer was never medically linked to the use of smokeless tobacco, he believed it was related to his cancer diagnosis.

Experience shows that an oral cancer lesion, which often grows slowly and may be painless, can easily be overlooked by a patient who has "had this spot forever." Dentists are often the only health professional who regularly sees the patient and can stay engaged in ensuring that a "spot" is not, and does not become, a threat to the patient's health. Dentists should conduct regular oral cancer screenings on all patients. In addition to consistent documentation of screenings, follow-up and referral of any suspicious lesion or area is strongly recommended.

Patients can be reminded that smokeless tobacco use puts them at risk not only for oral cancer, but also cancer of the pharynx, larynx and esophagus, as well as may lead to tooth abrasion, increased tooth decay, gum recession, nicotine dependence, tooth discoloration and bad breath.

Danger signs of oral cancer include:

• A sore that does not heal;

• A lump or white patch;

• A prolonged sore throat;

• Difficulty in chewing;

• Restricted movement of the tongue or jaws; and

• A feeling of something in the throat.

All of this and more can be found in CDA's "Smokeless Tobacco If You Chew ... Quit" resource.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIH), the five-year survival rate for those with localized disease at diagnosis is 83 percent compared with only 36 percent for those whose cancer has metastasized.

"Early detection of oral cancer is often possible. Tissue changes in the mouth that might signal the beginnings of cancer often can be seen and felt easily," according to the NIH's website.

The ADA has joined other leading health organizations in calling for a total prohibition on tobacco use at Major League Baseball (MLB) parks and on camera.

In a letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark, the ADA, American Cancer Society, American Medical Association and six other health organizations noted the use of smokeless tobacco "sets a terrible example for the millions of young people who watch baseball at the ballpark or on TV and often see players and managers using tobacco."

The NIH has a "Detecting Oral Cancer: A Guide for Health Care Professionals" resource available here.

Dentists also can help their patients become tobacco free by using the online tobacco cessation information on U.S. Health and Human Services' Be Tobacco Free (betobaccofree.hhs.gov/index.html) or Smokefree.gov (smokefree.gov). Dentists also can refer their patients to 800.QUITNOW (800.784.8669) or 800.NOBUTTS (800.662.8887) for phone support and to set up a personalized plan to quit.