April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. And while discussing cancer is unlikely to be anyone’s idea of a good time, it’s an important discussion to have.
According to The Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 48,250 people in the US will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2016 – 132 people every day. This includes those cancers that occur in the mouth itself, in the very back of the mouth known as the oropharynx, and on the exterior lips.
When oral cancer is found during its early stages of development, treatment is very successful -there’s an 80 to 90 % survival rate. Unfortunately, most oral cancers are not discovered until the cancer is in late stage development. One person dies from oral cancer every hour, every day of the year.
Oral cancer is hard for people to spot. Your best defense is regular dental checkups. Your dentist probably screens you for oral cancer and other diseases during a checkup, and you can also make an appointment for a screening if you notice symptoms such as “a sore or discolored area of your mouth, which does not heal within 14 days … a lump or mass which can be felt inside the mouth or neck, pain or difficulty in swallowing, speaking, or chewing, any wart like masses, hoarseness which lasts for a long time, or any numbness in the oral/facial region. Unilateral persistent ear ache can also be a warning sign.”
We talked with Doctor John Paul Gallardo about oral care and cancer. Dr Gallardo, who is based in Miami, Florida at Gallardo & Lamas Periodontics and Implant Dentistry, has lectured nationally and internationally to dentists and hygienists and has been sponsored by companies such as Procter and Gamble to speak on clinical topics related to gum disease and dental implants. He has been interviewed by the Miami Herald as an expert contributor to oral health-related news updates.
As a highly trained specialist in this field, Dr Gallardo has successfully treated thousands of patients with gum problems and missing teeth. He also provides services at University of Florida to guide dental students in treatments and procedures
What are the main things that people can do to help prevent gum disease?
Preventing gum disease is all about preventing inflammation. Because the disease can occur without noticeable symptoms, proper oral hygiene at home as well as avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking is important. And make sure get checkups periodically by a periodontist (dental professionals who focus on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases that affect the gums, as well as other structures that support the teeth) since early diagnosis can prevent irreversible damage and associated tooth loss or worse – increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Let’s talk about oral cancer for a moment. Regular dental checkups can catch cancer in an early stage, potentially improving cancer treatment outcomes. So that’s another benefit of preventive care. Do you stress the importance of preventative care to your patients?
Yes. I explain that oral health is not just about having bad breath or teeth anymore. It’s linked to systemic issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and low birthweight/pre term babies.
And do you feel the message is getting through?
I think so. I tell them that preventative care all about a change in lifestyle. Once you know that you are healthy, preventive care appointments with your dentist or periodontist become something you look forward to. The key is not waiting until signs or symptoms appear-it may be too late.
I read an article about a teenager with a toothache that turned out to be tumor, could this really happen? (Reference: http://goo.gl/6OMh6a)
Yes, although this particular case featured in the article is rare, tumors are usually slower growing and will not become noticeable until they either start compressing nerves or become a palpable mass or nodule. In addition, one of the most dangerous aspects of oral cancer is that it is not readily detectable by the patient unless you have periodic oral cancer screenings at your dentist’s office.
Last question – let’s address an internet rumor: is oral cancer hereditary?
A susceptibility to cancer can be passed on genetically, however that does not mean that you will develop the disease. There are other factors such as smoking and drinking (especially when combined) that could be just as important if not more.
At Gallardo & Lamas Periodontics and Implant Dentistry, the number one goal is to save your smile. To accomplish this, the practice offers a wide variety of implant and periodontal procedures and services, from preventative care and risk assessments to complex treatments. Find out more about how Gallardo & Lamas Periodontics and Implant Dentistry can help you by visiting the practice’s website, or calling 305-447-1447
Planning to visit Dr. Gallardo? Then we have a special offer for you! Take 15% off plus get a free month on any dental savings plan accepted by Dr. Gallardo’s office. Just visit http://www.dentalplans.com/mydentist and enter code “Gallardo.”