Dental Hygienists: On The Front Lines Of Oral Cancer Detection

Dental Hygienists: On The Front Lines Of Oral Cancer Detection

Dental hygienists are in the unique position of identifying suspicion of oral cancer first because most often we see them before seeing the dentist.

The Facts

If you are unaware of the dangers, here’s a list of the facts we all need to know:

  • Oral cancer might be found in the mouth, tongue, throat or on the lips
  • Canadian statistics indicate that three people die each day of oral cancers in this country
  • Detected early, oral cancer can be highly treatable
  • Fastest growing demographic of new oral cancer cases are younger, sexually active individuals, ages 25–50, who often don’t smoke or have other common risk factors. This is because …
  • … many oral cancers are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), one of the fastest growing and easily transmitted sexual infections.
  • Though HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women, there are three times as many new cases of oral cancers developing
  • White, non-smoking males between the ages of 35 and 55 have a higher risk factor, four times as great as women

What will the hygienist look for?

At Aplus Dental Institute, our hygienists are trained in the detection of oral cancer, examinations collectively known as Oral Cancer Screening (OCS). They will perform an:

  • extra-oral examination– looking at and feeling your head, face, front and back of the neck, under the chin, hairline and behind the ears.
  • intra-oral examination– visually looking inside your mouth for anything unusual. That includes:
  • Red or white (or a mix of both) spots or lesions
  • Lumps or tissue thickening
  • Sores in the mouth that bleed or don’t heal quickly
  • Sores under a denture or dental appliance
  • Wart-like bumps inside the mouth

They might ask if you have any of the following:

  • Numbness anywhere in your mouth or face
  • Frequent earaches
  • Persistent hoarseness of your voice or sore throat
  • Pain or difficulty when talking, swallowing, chewing or other movement of the jaw or tongue

There are other OCS procedures if you want to be even more vigilant. Just ask your hygienist about new technology now available.

Defence is always the best offence

Reduce your risk by:

  • Seeing your dental hygienist on a regular basis
  • Quitting the use of all tobacco products, including cigars and “e-cigarettes”
  • Cutting down on alcohol consumption – the combination of cigarettes and alcohol have a combined, synergistic risk factor used together
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Applying sunscreen to the lips as well as the rest of your face
  • Protecting against HPV infection by using condoms and getting the vaccine.

You might have an HPV infection but not have symptoms you are aware of. Some of us, with well functioning immune systems, might contract the virus but our bodies will clear it without us ever knowing about it. But many aren’t that lucky and the virus can be dormant for years, waiting to strike.

Oral cancer is not the only type of this monstrous disease your hygienist might detect. Melanoma often hides itself on the scalp behind the hairline. Other forms of cancer too might be detected by swollen lymph glands in the neck – lymphoma is one of them.

Most oral cancers are preventable. Paramount to early discovery is an annual OCS examination performed by a dental hygienist. If you are concerned or believe you are in the group most at risk, don’t hesitate. Make an appointment today to have your dental hygienist perform OCS on you. The peace of mind will be worth it and it could save your life.