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Oral Cancer Exam

According to research conducted by the American Cancer society, more than 30,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year.  More than 7,000 of these cases result in the death of the patient.  The good news is that oral cancer can easily be diagnosed with an annual oral cancer exam, and effectively treated when caught in its earliest stages.

Oral cancer is a pathologic process which begins with an asymptomatic stage during which the usual cancer signs may not be readily noticeable.  This makes the oral cancer examinations performed by the dentist critically important.  Oral cancers can be of varied histologic types such as teratoma, adenocarcinoma and melanoma.  The most common type of oral cancer is the malignant squamous cell carcinoma.  This oral cancer type usually originates in lip and mouth tissues.

There are many different places in the oral cavity and maxillofacial region in which oral cancers commonly occur, including:

  • Lips
  • Mouth
  • Tongue
  • Salivary Glands
  • Oropharyngeal Region (throat)
  • Gums
  • Face

Reasons for oral cancer examinations

It is important to note that around 75 percent of oral cancers are linked with modifiable behaviors such as smoking, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption.  Your dentist can provide literature and education on making lifestyle changes and smoking cessation.

When oral cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, treatment is generally very effective.  Any noticeable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth or surrounding area should be evaluated by a health professional as quickly as possible.  During the oral cancer exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will be scrutinizing the maxillofacial and oral regions carefully for signs of pathologic changes.

The following signs will be investigated during a routine oral cancer exam:

  • Red patches and sores – Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) changes.

  • Leukoplakia – This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or may become cancerous if treatment is not sought.

  • Lumps – Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the throat or mouth can signal pathological problems.

Oral cancer exams, diagnosis and treatment

The oral cancer examination is a completely painless process.  During the visual part of the examination, the dentist will look for abnormality and feel the face, glands and neck for unusual bumps.  Lasers which can highlight pathologic changes are also a wonderful tool for oral cancer checks.  The laser can “look” below the surface for abnormal signs and lesions which would be invisible to the naked eye.

If abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps are apparent, the dentist will implement a diagnostic impression and treatment plan.  In the event that the initial treatment plan is ineffective, a biopsy of the area will be performed.  The biopsy includes a clinical evaluation which will identify the precise stage and grade of the oral lesion.

Oral cancer is deemed to be present when the basement membrane of the epithelium has been broken.  Malignant types of cancer can readily spread to other places in the oral and maxillofacial regions, posing additional secondary threats.  Treatment methods vary according to the precise diagnosis, but may include excision, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

During bi-annual check-ups, the dentist and hygienist will thoroughly look for changes and lesions in the mouth, but a dedicated comprehensive oral cancer screening should be performed at least once each year.

If you have any questions or concerns about oral cancer, please ask your dentist or dental hygienist.

Testimonials.

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Testimonials

“All my life I wanted beautiful straight, white teeth. At the age of 39, I had braces and still my teeth were too small and discolored. You told me veneers would greatly improve my smile. It took only two painless visits and my teeth were gorgeous. It took 66 years, but now I have the smile I always wanted.”

John D

“After only one visit, I'm very confident that this was the best choice for a new dentist. The staff is more than friendly; that's so important to me. I feel that my needs are in very capable hands. Perhaps, I may even look forward to going to the dentist! ”

Steven C

For the last 10 years I have been a patient at Dr Rinehart's. My teeth were in a degraded state when I first arrived but over the years Dr Rinehart has provided me everything from routine maintenance to porcelain and gold crowns and he has done so with speed, technical quality and caring comfort that leaves other dentists in the dust! Dr Rinehart is a genius of some kind-he restored my smile! Also, I am not an easy patient to have as I abhor dental pain of any kind and my teeth seem to be extremely sensitive to most instruments-I may even be called a "Scared y cat" as I am genuinely nervous even during a cleaning-but the team of good folks in Dr Rinehart's office-Karen, Chris, Julie, Sarah, Mindy to name a few, are truly compassionate and fun people. They function almost as a family and obviously have fun while working hard for their patients-there is love in that office. They are truly gifted care-givers!

Specifically, I had a severely cracked tooth that simply shattered below the gum line and I was faced with the choice of a bridge OR an implant. I only know one thing about bridges for tooth repair....people complain endlessly about the accumulation of food. For me the choice was obvious-I had to have an implant! Chewing is terribly important to me as I had lost the sense of smell as a child and the tactile pleasure from chomping down on a good steak or munching on a caramel apple is a BIG DEAL to me-a source of much pleasure!! An implant is a good investment in not just dental health but worry-free eating! Folks, thanks to your efforts and Dr. Rinehart's magical touch - NO SWELLING & NO PAIN... In truth, I was actually scared about this implant as drilling into one's jaw sounds like a 2 week vacation to North Korea! Frankly, I am amazed - - I filled the prescription for the Tylenol and took 2 before bed as a precaution - even though I had no pain... and awoke the next day to nothing unusual. This implant is undetectable. It feels as at home in my mouth as my molars! Dr. Rinehart is a genius - I am in disbelief as to how innocuous and pain free the entire procedure was and the lack of follow-up pain and complications! Please feel free to use this as an implant testimonial for all your other scaredy-cats like me!

Did I mention that I am squeamish about all procedures?
Dr Rinehart and the angels of mercy that work with him made it unbelievably painless-It was a very simple process that is well planned and reviewed. The outcome is a beautiful tooth that stands up to the normal rigors of dental activity!

In closing I heartily recommend dental implants as a viable solution and Dr Rinehart as the care giver par excellence! Again many thanks to his loving and caring staff!

Greg B.

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