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California Dental Association recommends oral cancer screenings

April 5, 2024
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About 58,000 people in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

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.

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and the California Dental Association recommends 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.

“Screenings by a dentist are essential in the detection of precancerous and cancerous conditions,” said Dr. Carliza Marcos, president of the California Dental Association. “Dentists can identify early signs of oral cancer during regular checkups. It’s important to catch it early before the cancer spreads to another area of the body.”

While tobacco and alcohol use are known risk factors for oral cancer, a lesser-known factor is exposure to the human papilloma virus – the same virus responsible for the majority of cervical cancers in women. HPV is believed to cause 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Monthly self-exams with a bright light and mirror are important to examine 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 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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