Question: Why does my dentist always check my lips, cheeks, and tongue at my cleaning appointments?
Answer: Your dentist is performing a routine oral cancer screening. Oral cancer strikes more than 30,000 people in the [COUNTY] every year. Because many oral cancers are diagnosed very late, the average five-year survival rate is only about 50%. Oral cancer often starts as a tiny white or red spot anywhere on the lips or in the mouth that frequently goes unnoticed by the patient. While it can occur anywhere in the mouth, the most common locations are the lower lip, floor of the mouth, and the sides of the tongue. Occasionally, these lesions can become painful and cause difficulty swallowing, eating, or speaking. People who smoke or use chewing tobacco are at much greater risk for developing oral cancer than those who do not use tobacco products. Furthermore, those who drink alcohol in addition to using tobacco are 40 times more likely to develop oral cancer than those who do not. Another risk factor for developing oral cancer is excessive exposure to sunlight. The use of SPF lip balm is a must, even during winter, to reduce exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays. Most sores that occur in the mouth are of a benign nature, but if you have a sore that does not heal after two weeks, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist for an evaluation of the lesion. If a sore in your mouth has become painful or caused reduced function, then call your dentist immediately. Early detection of oral cancers is the key to curing the disease, so be sure to visit your dentist every six months for routine check-ups and oral cancer screening.