April Is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

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Richmond Dental and Medical recently sponsored the Oral Cancer 5K, an annual run in Chapel Hill, staged by the UNC School of Dentistry’s Student National Dental Association Chapter. We sponsored the run held on March 30, to begin actively promoting Oral Cancer Awareness month. Our sponsorship included financial support and free samples of our award-winning products that are staples in dental clinics around the world.

Each April, stakeholders in the dental community come together to create awareness of oral cancer and educate the public on prevention and screening to assist with early detection of the disease. In the case of the UNC School of Dentistry, students and faculty use the 5K as a hub for offering free oral cancer screenings, blood pressure and glucose testing, and as well as information on health and wellness. The SNDA pledges all race profits to the Oral Cancer Foundation, an organization that leads efforts to prevent, educate, and support research to fight the disease.

According to the Oral Cancer foundation, there are two distinct pathways that bring most people to an oral cancer diagnosis: use of tobacco and alcohol, or exposure to version 16 the human papilloma virus. Worldwide, there are 657,000 newly-diagnosed cases of oral cancer each year, along with more than 330,000 deaths. While cure rates are between 80-90 percent, early detection is crucial, as the five-year mortality rate of oral cancer is higher than other better-known cancers like cervical cancer and prostate cancer.

According to the Mayo Clinic, oral cancer can occur on the lips, gums, tongue, the inner lining of the checks, and the roof and floor of the mouth.  Symptoms can include a lip or mouth sore that doesn't heal, a white or reddish patch on the inside of your mouth, loose teeth, mouth pain, ear pain, difficult or painful swallowing, or a growth or lump inside your mouth.

To prevent oral cancer, you should not use tobacco, drink alcohol in moderation (if at all), avoid excessive sun exposure to the lips, and see your dentist regularly. During routine exams, dentists can check all the areas of your mouth, tongue, lips, and gums to detect any troubling spots and early warning signs. If conditions persist longer than two weeks, they can take other diagnostic measures, such as an endoscopy to observe a greater area (to ensure all areas with cancer are identified) or a biopsy, where a piece of the suspected tissue is removed and tested for cancer.

According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, there are multiple treatment options for oral cancer, depending on the severity at time of diagnosis. The most prevalent form of treatment is surgery, where surgeons remove all cancer from the mouth. As with other cancers, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are also options. A new class of cancer medications, immunotherapies, are being used in clinical trials with the hopes they can be widely-used in the coming years.

Upon completion of treatment, many patients have lost the ability to speak, or have difficulty swallowing and breathing. Patients may need reconstructive surgery to restore these abilities, as well as remedy changes in their appearance due to damages from cancer.

If you have been dealing with mouth sores, perforated areas, loose teeth, or anything else abnormal with regard to your mouth, tongue, lips, or gums, please see a dentist. Early detection can save your life and prevent or minimize much of the damage that can be caused by oral cancer.