It’s April! Winter’s over, and summer will be coming on in May. Spring in Houston is a great time for revitalization and reflection. Cleaning house, the return of pleasant weather and outdoor activities are always on everyone’s list.
Here at Precise Dental of Houston, April is important for another reason, and one that is more serious. April is Oral Cancer Awareness month.
The whole Precise Dental team would like to encourage you to educate yourself on the dangers of oral cancer, and what you can do to prevent it. The best thing you can do is schedule an appointment with your dentist for a screening. An oral cancer screening is a routine part of a dental exam. In fact, you’ve probably had one before and not even known it! Still, it’s important that you be aware of oral cancer, so that you can be vigilant between exams.
What is oral cancer?
Oral cancers include cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, pharynx, and sinuses. It is estimated that 43,250 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with some form of Oral Cancer this year. A little less than 60% of those people will live beyond five years.
What’s my risk?
The risk for oral cancer is increased for those who use tobacco. Alcohol abuse is also a large contributor. Of course, this should hardly come as a surprise; the negative effects of tobacco use and alcohol abuse are well-documented.
Even if you don’t smoke and you only drink in moderation, you’re still at risk: 25% of oral cancer cases occur in people who don’t have these habits.
Even more surprising: the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer patient population are healthy people, aged 25 – 50. Think about it! Those years should be your most productive. Oral cancer is deadly, and the tragedy is made all the worse when the victim is young (and very likely, a parent of a minor child).
How is this possible?
These numbers reflect recent trends in the overall health of Americans. On the upside, the decline of tobacco use over the last few decades have pushed down the number of cases where the cause is most likely the use of tobacco products. Unfortunately, oral cancer is still a major concern.
HPV (Human papillomavirus) is now the leading cause of oral cancer in the U.S. What’s worse, the CDC reports that HPV is now the most common sexually transmitted disease among Americans. Up to 80% of all Americans will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives.
99% of those infected with HPV will not experience any symptoms; they’re simply carriers of the infection. This doesn’t mean that some of those people won’t develop oral cancer. It just means that they may not be aware that they have HPV, because they have no obvious symptoms. Read the CDC’s page on HPV for more detailed information. .
What Can I Do?
While there are self-examinations you can and should do (at least once a month), the most important step you can take toward prevention is making an appointment with your dentist for a screening. (click here for WebMD’s simple how-to guide http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/oral-cancer?page=2#4 ).
Self-examination, while a good habit, simply isn’t enough; symptoms are difficult to identify without a medical professional. According to the American Cancer Society, you should make a point of getting a screening once every three years if you’re over 20. If you’re over 40, your screenings should be much more frequent: once a year.
We can’t emphasize this enough: prevention of oral cancer is through a combination of in-office screenings and vigilance at home.
An oral cancer screening generally won’t cause you much discomfort, though it may involve a biopsy if your dentist notices something suspicious. You can learn more about the oral cancer screening process by watching this video featuring Dr. Lynette Crouse, DDS.
Make an Appointment Today!
Oral Cancer is a serious threat to your health. Make an appointment with us as soon as you can. If you’re serious about your oral health, you’re already seeing your dentist twice a year, but if you have any doubts or concerns, click here to make an appointment, or call us at 832-548-9805.
For more in-depth information on oral cancer, the risks, and current research, click here for the Oral Cancer Foundation’s website.