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How To Be an Oral Cancer Screening Pro Like Your Dentist

man getting an oral cancer screening at dentist

Your dentist is great at finding tooth decay. But these healthcare professionals are also on the frontlines of saving your life. They’re experts at oral cancer screening.

We’ll show you everything you need to know to become an oral cancer screening pro too. Plus, learn how to prevent it. Here’s why.

Disfiguring & Deadly Disease on the Rise

Cancers of the mouth (oral) and upper throat (oropharyngeal) are on the rise in the U.S. These cancers can make it hard to swallow or speak. Treating it effectively can dramatically alter your appearance.

And oral cancer can turn deadly. Each hour in the U.S., someone dies of mouth or upper throat cancer.

“We are seeing more oral cancers in people who aren’t longtime smokers or heavy alcohol drinkers. The leading cause of cancer in the mouth and upper throat is from HPV (human papilloma virus),” says UVA Health head and neck cancer surgeon David Shonka, MD.

He’s part of the team of oral cancer experts at UVA Health’s top-rated comprehensive cancer center.

Catch Oral Cancer Symptoms Early

The best way to beat this cancer is catching it early with an oral cancer screening.

During a routine checkup, a dentist can look for early signs. In between your dental visits, you can do your own oral cancer screening. Stand in front of a mirror. Open wide and know:

Where Does Mouth Cancer Strike?

tongue cancer image
Tongue is the most common site for oral cancer.

Oral cancer can form anywhere in your mouth. This includes:

What Do Early Stages of Mouth Cancer Look Like?

Oral cancer symptoms depend on whether the cancer is caused by:

Longtime Tobacco User or Heavy Drinker?

Do an oral cancer screening to look for these signs. If they don’t go away in 2 weeks, reach out to your dentist or primary care provider.

oral cancer inside a cheek
Oral cancer on inside of the cheek.

Virus-Caused Oral Cancer Symptoms

A persistent HPV infection can trigger lots of different cancers. This includes oropharyngeal cancer.

Oral cancer and head and neck cancer is devastating. Survival rates are not great. And quality of life after treatment is very compromised. That’s why prevention with the HPV vaccine and early detection with regular oral cancer screenings are so important.

James Vick, DDS, a UVA Health dentist

Watch for these HPV-caused cancer signs that last more than 2 weeks:

It’s helpful to have a piece of gauze to hold and move your tongue, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. This foundation created a video so you can watch someone do an oral cancer screening.

Your Dentist Can Test for Mouth Cancer

It’s important to tell your dentist about anything inside your mouth that looks unusual.

“When we find a suspicious area in your mouth, we can do simple tests to see if you have oral cancer,” says James Vick, DDS, a UVA Health dentist.

Dentists can use a special stain or light to find cancer. They can also find cancer with a biopsy. They swab the area or take a tiny sample. Then they look for dangerous (cancerous) cells with a microscope.

If your dentist finds cancer, you’ll need treatment right away. At UVA Health, you’ll find some of the nation’s best head and neck cancer surgeons and oncologists. These doctors offer the latest treatments for all types of oral cancer.

How to Prevent Oral Cancer?

The best ways to prevent oral cancer are:

Worried About Oral Cancer?

Show your dentist. They can refer you to our top head & neck cancer doctors.

HPV is a super common virus. If you haven’t been vaccinated against HPV, you likely had an HPV infection. Most of us clear the infection without any symptoms. But in rare cases, a person can’t clear an HPV infection.

Getting an HPV vaccine can protect you from many different HPV-caused cancers. This includes cervical cancer and mouth cancer.

“Oral cancer and head and neck cancer is devastating,” Vick says. “Survival rates are not great. And quality of life after treatment is very compromised. That’s why prevention with the HPV vaccine and early detection with regular oral cancer screenings are so important.”

Tags: cancer

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