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Cancer Issues Author: Sheila Wolf, RDH Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Oral Cancer Screening - Safeguard Your Life

By Sheila Wolf, RDH
Sep 18, 2010 - 12:24:44 PM

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( - By now, many have heard the shocking news of Michael Douglas’ throat cancer. When the “Big C” strikes a celebrity, it gets world attention. Since media coverage often raises awareness, hopefully more patients will ask their dentist or hygienist to perform an oral cancer screening. This should be an automatic ritual each time you see your dental professional, especially since a thorough oral cancer exam takes no more than three minutes.

Between dental visits, self-examination on a monthly basis is vital. Beware of any lumps, bumps, indentations, discolorations, (white or red patches) changes in your voice, trouble swallowing, ear pain, or sores that don’t heal within two weeks. 75 percent of all head and neck cancers begin in the mouth. If found early, chances for recovery are excellent.

Here are things to look for that could save your life:

* A sore or spot on your lip or in your mouth that bleeds easily or does not heal for two weeks or longer.
* Red or white patches on your lips, gums, tongue or lining of your mouth. A cauliflower-like raised lesion in any of those same areas. (May be HPV virus)
* A lump, thickening, or crusty spot on your lip, your mouth, or your throat.
* A persistent sore throat or a change in your voice.
* A pain in your ear.
* An unexplained swelling of your jaw with difficulty chewing, speaking or swallowing.
* Any unusual bleeding, pain, or a numb feeling in your mouth area.
* A change in the way your teeth come together.
* Any asymmetry (unevenness) on your lips, mouth, face, or neck.

Oral cancer self-exam

Position yourself in front of a brightly-lit mirror:

1. Remove any dentures or appliances.
2. Look and palpate inside the lips, cheeks, gums, and roof of mouth.
3. Gently pull out your tongue - with a cloth or gauze - and look at all surfaces: top, bottom, sides, and underneath.
4. Feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in both sides of the neck including under the lower jaw.

If you are a smoker, drinker, use snuff or smokeless tobacco, or have had numerous sexual partners, you are at higher risk for oral cancer. Please see your general dentist or oral surgeon for an annual exam. The National Cancer Institute encourages people to take an active role in the early detection of oral cancer.
Organizations that will provide additional information:

* National Cancer Institute:
* The American Cancer Society:
* The Mayo Clinic:
* The National Institutes of Health:

Sheila Wolf, known affectionately as “Mama Gums,” is a dental hygienist and oral wellness expert and coach with over 30 years’ experience in non-surgical periodontal care. She is the author of two award-winning books: Pregnancy and Oral Health, a guide for mothers-to-be on how to care for their mouths and promote a healthy pregnancy, and Your Mouth Could Be Killing You, a guide for the rest of us who want to keep our natural teeth, avoid gum surgery, and just possibly add years to our lives. Sheila can be reached at 866-MAMA-GUMs or through her website:

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