by Todd Johnson
The American Cancer Society reports that one American dies every hour from oral cancer. That death rate has remained essentially unchanged for more than forty years.
The reason for the high death rate of the disease is mainly due to discovering the cancer only in its late stages. The good news is that when detected early there is a 90 percent cure rate. Unfortunately, 70 percent of oral cancers are diagnosed in the late stages.
The death rate in the United States for oral cancer is higher than that of cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, cancer of the brain, liver, testes, kidney or ovary.
Oral cancer usually involves the tissue at a person’s lips or tongue. It may also develop in the floor of the mouth, the cheek lining, a person’s gums or the roof of the mouth.
Smoking and other tobacco use is linked to 70 percent of oral cancer uses, as well as heavy alcohol use. Other issues that can increase the chance of oral cancer include poor dental hygiene or chronic irritation, such as poor fitting dentures or fillings.
Oral cancers can start out as mouth ulcers or white plaque, before developing.
New technology at the dental office
Dentists and hygienists now have a weapon to combat the threat of oral cancer. It’s called ViziLite. This technology allows the user to examine a patient’s oral cavity with a specially designed light that can immediately identify suspicious tissue. If any abnormalities are found a biopsy is ordered to confirm or rule out cancer. It is painless and fast.
More than 30,000 Americans will receive an oral cancer diagnosis this year. In five years, only 57 percent of that population will still be alive. Dentists recommend an annual examination, in order to find and treat the disease quickly.
Todd Johnson is a practicing dentist at Carolinas Dental Center in Waxhaw.