Do You Need An Oral Cancer Screening?

  • April 8, 2016

When you think of general dentistry, what comes to mind?

You may think of someone caring for your teeth. You may think of someone removing plaque and tartar buildup, then polishing your teeth so they can look their best.

You may think of X-rays to monitor the positions of your teeth and to check for changes in those positions.

You may not think of oral cancer, although we want you to know that oral cancer screenings are part of what we do at Forever Young Dentistry.

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. We thought this would be a good opportunity to explain what you should be watching for, how we check for oral cancer, and how you can reduce your risk of developing oral cancer.

We value your health just as we value the health of every patient who walks through the door of our dentist office in Sterling Heights, MI.

Warning Signs

Oral cancer is treatable, and the survival rates are much higher for people who detect their oral cancer early.

Between 80 and 90 percent of oral cancer patients survive when their cancer is diagnosed in the early stages. In contrast, 43 percent of people who are diagnosed in the later stages do not survive more than five years, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation.

Our hope is that this will never be an issue for you or anyone who you love. Nevertheless, we would prefer early detection for anyone who is affected by this disease.

Here are the symptoms of early stages of oral cancer:

  • The soft tissues of your mouth may have discolorations that are red, white, or both.
  • You have a sore that does not heal within two weeks.
  • You are persistently hoarse.

Again, these are the early warning signs and reasons for you to visit the doctor. What follows are more advanced signs, and you should see a doctor as soon as you are able if you are experiencing any of them:

  • Numbness in or around your mouth
  • Sensations of something stuck in your throat
  • Problems with swallowing or with moving your tongue or jaw
  • A sore that is under a denture and does not get better after your denture is adjusted
  • A lump in your neck or mouth
  • Ear pain that only affects you on one side


Patients who visit our office for general dentistry will receive an oral cancer screening during routine cleanings and examinations. We use a VELscope to perform these screenings.

We all know that the human eye has limitations. This is why astronomers use telescopes and why biologists use microscopes.

Like those other devices, the VELscope is used to see things would couldn’t normally see with our eyes alone.

The VELscope shines a blue light on the soft tissues in your mouth. Tissues that may be infected reflect this light differently than healthy tissues. This can allow us to identify problems sooner than we could in other circumstances.

And as we noted previously, early detection greatly increases your chances of long-term survival.

Reduce Your Risk

More than 48,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. The cause will be identified in 93 percent of those cases, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation. That leaves 7 percent of cases with unknown causes.

In other words, you can’t completely eliminate your chances of developing oral cancer. But you can take steps to reduce your risk, such as:

➤ Avoiding Tobacco Products

Smoking and using smokeless tobacco have both been proven to greatly increase your risk of developing oral cancer.

One study found that 8 in 10 people with oral cancer were smokers. Another study found that long-term smokeless tobacco users were 50 times more likely to develop oral cancer than people who did not use tobacco.

➤ Avoid Or Limit Alcohol Use

Drinking 15 or more alcoholic drinks per weeks has been proven to raise the risk of developing oral cancer. Using alcohol and tobacco together makes that risk even higher.

Alcohol can dry out the soft tissue in your mouth, and this makes it easier for the carcinogens in tobacco to be absorbed into those tissues.

➤ Get Vaccinated Against HPV

Eighty percent of Americans will contract HPV during their lives. For most people it won’t affect them in any way, but for 1 percent HPV can lead to oral and other cancers. This is why national health experts recommend getting the HPV vaccine.

This vaccine does not work if you have already been exposed to HPV, which is why the vaccine is recommended before people become sexually active. Talk to your doctor to find out if you are eligible to receive this vaccine.

Protect Yourself

Today, 132 Americans will find out that they have oral cancer. We hope you aren’t one of them.

But if you are, our team at Forever Young Dentistry encourages you to take steps to get treated as soon as possible.

If you have not received an oral cancer screening, please be aware of the symptoms we mentioned above. Also, please make an appointment to visit our dentist office in Sterling Heights, MI, to receive a screening during your next regular examination.

Call 586-698-7135 or fill out our online form to schedule your visit.