When my patients come in for a check-up, one of the first things I will ask them to do when I start examining their teeth is to ask them to say ‘Aaagghh’. My request is always met with a quizzical expression: ‘ok, if you are asking me to!’
Last week, I had a top charting musician on my chair (from X Factor but that’s all I’m going to reveal for now – keep checking my blog to find out who!). I asked her to say ‘Aaagghh’, and she sung the most impressive high note I have ever heard on my dental chair. Umm, yes, so now I had to explain that it wasn’t my intention to check her singing voice.
It was then that it dawned upon me that I perform this routine test on all of my patients at every check up, every time they come to see me but they actually don’t know why I am doing it. So I have started informing everyone now. It is all part of a basic mouth cancer screening that I will be performing.
So what does a mouth cancer screening involve? I check the soft tissues – the lips – inside and outside, the insides of the cheeks. The tongue – along the sides, both left and right, under the tongue, and on top of the tongue. Then I assess all the way to the back of the tongue onto the throat. It is at that point I ask you to say ‘Aaagghh’, as it provides me with a great view of your tonsils and your throat. So you see, there is a whole lot more meaning to me asking you to perform this than sheer enjoyment of my patients’ lovely singing voices!
So what do I look out for when I perform a mouth cancer screening? The answer is I look for little things, or changes that shouldn’t be there and those small changes that were not evident at your last check up: an ulcer, a white patch, a red spot, a raised area, a lumpy area. It could be the size of a pin prick or the size of a 50p coin. It could be asymptomatic (showing no symptoms), or it could be causing you some discomfort.
Mouth cancer can come in any shape or size and is never site specific. According to The British Dental Health Foundation, of every 100 patients diagnosed with cancer, two of them will be mouth cancers.
It can affect any person at any age, but is more common in males aged over 40 years. More up to date research shows that mouth cancer is now affecting more younger people and females, due to habits such as smoking, which in the past were only associated with males. There are 6,000 new cases of mouth cancer diagnosed in Britain every year and this number is on the increase. Some 1,800 people die from mouth cancer every year and early detection will reduce the mortality rate from oral cancers.
There are so many lifestyle factors that can predispose us to mouth cancer:
Smoking – cigarettes, pipes, cigars – these contain carcinogens (cancer inducing agents) such as tar, arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde. The carcinogens cause abnormal cell growth which could develop into cancer.
Chewing Tobacco or Betel Quid – the betel quid is usually tobacco wrapped in a betel leaf. As it is in contact with the soft tissues in the mouth over long periods of time, they are more likely to cause cancer.
Alcohol – the more you drink, the higher the risk. A combination of smoking and drinking can increase the risk further still. Alcohol is the second biggest cause of mouth cancer after smoking. Alcohol contains acetaldehyde which damages our DNA and prevents it from healing itself. Alcohol also makes it easy for the mouth tissues to absorb carcinogens.
Diet – those with a poor diet are normally low in zinc or vitamin A, which can predispose people to mouth cancers. Eating food with anti-oxidants such as fruits and vegetables will reduce the risk of mouth cancer.
Low Immunity - research has shown that those with low immunity, such as people with HIV or AIDS, or those who are taking immunity suppressants for the purposes of organ transplants are more likely to develop mouth cancers.
Sunlight & Sunbeds – UV light given off by the sun and sun beds can cause cancer in the face and neck regions. Studies have shown that people who routinely use sunbeds have a higher risk of developing cancer.
So what can you do to make sure to reduce the risk of mouth cancer?
- Visit the dentist regularly for routine check-ups, which should include basic mouth cancer screening
- Stop smoking
- Limit the frequency of alcohol intake and the use of products which contain alcohol e.g adopt to using alcohol-free mouthwashes
- Reduce exposure to UV lights by avoiding sunbeds and being in direct sunshine for long periods of time
- Make sure you eat a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables and foods containing anti-oxidants
Here are some top tips for mouth cancer self screening (even though the regular check up is still thoroughly recommended):
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have difficulty swallowing?
- Do you have chronic sore throat or a hoarse voice which does not heal
Look out for some of the following:
- Red spots on the mouth or tongue which do not seem to heal
- White patches on the mouth or tongue
- A lump or overgrowth, whether it is sore or not
If you notice anything abnormal, visit your dentist at once for an examination. A lot of the times, it is nothing much to worry about, but it is better to err on the side of caution, as early diagnosis is best for success of any treatment that may be required.
We at the Covent Garden Dental Spa realise how important this is. We want to highlight the importance of Mouth Cancer Action Month (http://www.mouthcancer.org/page/about-mouth-cancer ) during November 2012. We want to encourage more people to visit us for regular check up appointments, so they can have the basic mouth cancer screening. Mouth Cancer Action Month is all about educating our patients on what predisposes them to mouth cancer and what the early signs of mouth cancer may be. To facilitate this, we will be offering reduced rate new patient consultations at only £25 (our normal fee is £69) for the whole of November 2012. For every check up and new patient consultation we provide, we will donate £2.50 to the Mouth Cancer Foundation http://www.mouthcancerfoundation.org/
We will also be holding a competition during the month of November.
‘Which of the following is most likely to increase the risk of mouth cancer?’
- Eating sugary foods
- Not flossing
The winner will be announced on 15 December 2012.
The prize will be a Free Check Up, (including a mouth cancer screening) and a Free Deluxe Diamond Sparkle Hygiene Clean
If the prize is won by one of our regular patients, or the winner is one of our patients who has recently had a check up, we will allow them the chance to transfer the prize as a gift to a friend, family or colleague.