A Screening with Meaning

      The purpose of these newsletters is to share information that will help people understand how important it is to maintain proper oral health, which can affect the overall health of our bodies. There are three types of tissues that are directly related to the oral cavity. These are the teeth themselves, the periodontium (the gingiva and ligaments that hold the teeth to the bone), and the mucosa (the soft lining that forms a barrier related to skin). 

      These tissues function with the jawbones, the muscles of mastication (chewing), the saliva glands, and the cranial nerves (directly from the brain itself) to swallow, eat, and talk. Everything that comes into our body, enters through the oral cavity. Even air can enter the body through the mouth.

      It is for this reason that the oral cavity must be maintained regularly and any sign of damage to the system be responded to as quickly as possible. The most common causes of damage to the oral complex are decay, periodontal disease, trauma and cancer. Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because in its early stages it may not be noticed by people.  At Parkview Dental Care, EVERY comprehensive oral exam incorporates the oral cancer screening.

A Screening with Meaning

      Oral cancers are part of a group of cancers commonly referred to as head and neck cancers. They comprise 85% of head and neck cancers. Brain cancer is not included in this cancer group. Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Oral cancer kills roughly one person per hour every day.

      Cancer begins in the cells of the body, the building blocks of tissues. Normally, your body forms new cells in response to trauma or in the growth process. Sometimes this process goes wrong. New cells may grow even when you don't need them, and old cells don't die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass called a tumor. Tumors can be benign or malignant. The term malignant is associated with cancer.

      Understanding the factors that cause oral cancers can contribute to the prevention of the disease. Age is frequently named as a risk for oral cancer. It is likely that that the accumulative damage from tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and persistent viral infections are the leading factors. The fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population are non-smokers between the ages of 40 and 50 years old.

      Tobacco and alcohol are essentially chemical factors, but they are also considered lifestyle factors, because we have some control over them. Biological factors include viruses and fungi, which are associated with oral cancers. The human papilloma virus (HPV) has been definitively associated with cancers in the back of the mouth.

      Other minor risk factors include genetic predispositions. Also, the inflammatory disease of the oral mucosa called lichen planus, possibly related to fungi, are associated with oral cancers. There are studies that indicate a diet low in fruits and vegetables could be a risk factor. But these have not yet been definitively shown to participate in their development. 

      The real danger of these cancers, is that in its early stages, it can go unnoticed. They can be painless, and show very little in the way of physical appearance. It may appear as a white or red patch of tissue in the mouth, or a small ulcerated area that looks like a common canker sore. Other symptoms include a lump which can be felt inside the mouth or neck. 

      Pain or difficulty swallowing, speaking, or chewing are also signs that something may be developing in the oral cavity. Even a persistent earache or hoarseness that lasts more than a week should be evaluated by the dentist or physician. It is important to have any sore or discolored area of the mouth, which does not totally heal within 14 days be evaluated.

      The most common areas for oral cancer to develop are in the front of the mouth. This includes the tongue and the floor of the mouth (the part of the tongue connected to bone). The base of the tongue at the back of the mouth and the tonsillar area are also common sites, particularly in young non-smoking individuals.

      The prevention of oral cancer and its recurrence are the ultimate goal.  Rest assured, the comprehensive oral exam provided at Parkview Dental Care incorporates the oral cancer screening.

Happy Smiles Begin with Healthy Choices!