How often should you have your teeth cleaned and why?

The Real Reason is not what you think. It may be life threatening!

You may often hear a dentist say that you need to be sure to come back for your regular teeth cleaning appointment. You probably get tired of hearing it and may not think that it is very important. The truth is that it is far more important than you may realize.

Why You Need a Regular Dental Check Up

A dental cleaning primarily involves the removal of plaque and tartar, and the polishing of your teeth. What you may not know, though, is that a dentist will often (not always) perform oral cancer screening at the same time. Since not many people regularly look into your mouth, it is often the dentist that will first spot possible oral cancer symptoms.

Dentists are trained to be able to recognize signs of mouth cancer and they have several tools to perform an initial diagnosis. Because oral cancers can be fast and fatal, being warned early is certainly to your advantage.

The Oral Cancer Statistics

Although you may not hear about oral cancer as often as some other cancers, many people will get it this year. It is predicted that 51,540 adults will develop oral cancer this year. More than twice as many men (37,100) will get oral cancer as women (14,300). Among cancers, oral cancer is the eighth most common type that men will get.

Out of this number of people with oral cancer, the percentages are about the same when it comes to the death rate. Estimates indicate that about 7,200 men and 2,700 women will die from oral cancer, for a total of about 10,000.

Once someone gets oral cancer or oropharyngeal cancer, there is an overall 5-year survival rate of 65 percent. There is a large difference in survival rates depending on whether it is discovered early or not. When it is discovered early, the survival rate at 5 years is 83 percent; but when discovered after it has spread to distant parts of your body, the survival rate is only 39 percent.

Oral Cancers Often Spread Fast

Your oral cavity has many blood vessels in and around your mouth, throat, head, and neck. This means that a cancer of any kind in those locations can grow fast. Some types of throat or mouth cancer are nearly painless – which means that they are often not discovered until they are already in the advanced stages.

While the dentist is deep cleaning teeth, they can also screen for oral cancer. This is considered your first and major opportunity – and quite possibly the only one you have – to catch oral cancer in the early stages. The advantage of catching this type of cancer at the dentist office is that it is non-invasive – and you get better oral health at the same time.

Detecting Oral Cancers

The average mouth will often have abnormal tissue in their mouth at some point. This could be the result of biting the inside of your cheek, a canker sore, cold sore, and more. This is a problem because they often resemble the early form of cancer, so further diagnosis is often necessary – even if the result is negative. At least there is a better chance of detecting and stopping cancer before it spreads further. A general guideline is to have oral problems looked at if they do not go away within two weeks.

Mouth Cancer Symptoms

Spotting changes in your mouth and soft tissues may reveal the start of mouth cancer. Some things that you might look for that will indicate you need an examination apart from your regularly scheduled appointment include:

  • Bleeding that cannot be explained

  • Patches of red and white

  • Sores on your neck, face, or mouth that do not heal and easily bleed

  • A chronic sore throat

  • Difficulty when chewing, swallowing, moving your tongue or jaw

  • A feeling that something is caught in your throat

  • Lumps or rough spots on your gums or inside your mouth.

Risk Factors

Several risk factors increase your likelihood of developing oral cancer. They include:

  • Smoking – Smoking of any kind increases your risk of oral cancer six times.

  • Smokeless tobacco – This will increase your risk by 50 times.

  • Heavy alcohol use – It will raise your risk level by six times that of a light or non-user.

  • Family history – Having relatives with this cancer increases your risk.

  • HPV – Tends to increase your risk of oropharyngeal cancer.

  • Too much sun exposure – Getting out in the sun when young increases your risk for lip cancer.

It is possible that the greatest risk factor for oral cancer is a lack of proper dental care. In a small study conducted in Nigeria, where carcinogens would be very rare, it was discovered that those who did not regularly take good care of their teeth developed more cases of oral cancer than those who did not. Other possible factors were taken into consideration.

If you live in the Carrollton, TX or Grapevine, TX areas, you can get teeth cleaning and oral cancer screening from Dr. Kumar T. Vadivel, DDS, FDS RCS, MS, a Board-certified Periodontist. For more information, or to set up an appointment, you can call his office today at (817) 756-8578.