Oral Cancer Screenings

Much as in literature, one describes “the eyes as the window to our souls”, “the mouth”, at times, can be a mirror to the internal goings on of our bodies. Many times when different lesions(abnormalities) of different colours, (white, red, blue, black, brown, yellow) or different textures, (rough or smooth) or size, (small or large), grouped or spread out, well demarcated or irregular in shape or pattern, or as raised lumps or depressed ulcers show up, they are reflecting what is going on in the human body, systemically( at a deeper level).

Dentists have this unique window, (the mouth) to these internal goings on. By matching these lesions to previously studied pathology we can sometimes diagnose more serious ailments in their earlier stages. This usually leads to better treatment results. Does this mean you run to the dentist or doctor every time something unusual shows up? No, but a good rule of thumb is to have any abnormality which shows up and persists for more than 7-10 days, to be assessed by the dental professional or your MD. Even lesions of shorter duration should be noted if they recur on a regular basis. This will help both the dentist and physician to identify sooner for the patient many different ailments or diseases and treat them more effectively.

Oral or mouth cancers, studies tell us, make up 7-10% of all cancers depending on where in the world you live. Though most studies stress predisposing factors, such as tobacco, alcohol use, and beetle nut chewing (for Asian populations) as the main contributors to oral cancers, some cases to date, have no recognizable predisposing factors, so all lesions should be checked.

That brings us to the next question, how reliable is visual examination? Today dentists have at their disposal various staining dyes (Methylene Blue, Toluidine Blue) and diffuse ultraviolet light scanners (Velscope, Vizlite Plus, Identafi 3000) to help determine which lesions may or may not be cancerous. Unfortunately, though these items may give us clues, a definitive diagnosis of the lesion in question, can only be obtained by doing a biopsy(to remove a small piece and look at it under a microscope). In any uncertain situation this is the only choice and even if the results may be negative today a recurring lesion can change its character at any time. This last statement further highlights the need for 3-6 month checkups for most adult patients.

Please remember that unless a lesion is totally removed, no lesion can be trusted to remain the same.

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