Dr. Ravi Lall and his staff at Lake Mary Dental are dedicated to preserving oral health and educating members of the community about how to protect themselves from oral cancer.
While not as publicized as other cancers, oral or oropharyngeal cancer will affect close to 53,000 Americans this year, and it will cause more than 9,750 deaths. The disease kills more than one person per hour, 24 hours per day.
Oral cancer refers to cancer that develops in any part of the mouth including the lips, gums, tongue, inner lining of the cheeks, throat, sinuses, roof of the mouth, and floor of the mouth. Risk factors include smoking or chewing tobacco and excessive use of alcohol. Even if you don’t use tobacco or alcohol, you can still develop oral cancer.
“The HPV virus has certain strains that can transfer into cancer, as well,” explains Marilyn Wallace, dental hygienist at Lake Mary Dental. “And if it is not detected early and treated in time, it can spread to other areas of the face, head, or neck.”
Signs and symptoms of oral cancer may include a lip or mouth sore that doesn’t heal, a white or reddish patch on the inside of your mouth, loose teeth, a growth or lump inside your mouth, mouth or ear pain, and/or difficult or painful swallowing. But often, patients don’t experience any symptoms at all, which is why it’s important to have a regular check-up with your dentist.
At Lake Mary Dental, Dr. Lall gives all new patients a comprehensive, 90-minute initial exam, which includes a visual inspection of the mouth, teeth, and gums. While it may seem that he’s just poking around inside your mouth, Dr. Lall and his team are performing specific tests to seek out anything abnormal.
“We do a head and neck exam, and we check the lymph nodes, thyroid, and the TMJ joint,” says Marilyn. “We look
around the face and inside the mouth to check for any abnormalities.”
Sometimes an oral tissue abnormality can be detected visually, but patients can also opt to have a scan using a VELscope Vx, which is a screening device recognized by the World Health Organization.
“The scan costs less than a dental cleaning,” says Dr. Lall, “and it can detect oral cancer by identifying abnormal tissues.”
The test, which uses a blue light to highlight diseased tissue, takes two minutes with no rinses, stains, or discomfort.
“We do the test right in the office,” says Marilyn. “It’s a pretty easy procedure.
It’s a handheld device, and it’s not uncomfortable at all.”
The light illuminates the soft tissue around the teeth so your provider is able to identify anything that may look abnormal.
Dr. Lall recommends having the test done annually beginning at age 18.
“Education about oral cancer is so important,” Marilyn says. “We have a form that educates our patients about the scan and tells them why it’s necessary.”
Should anything abnormal appear on the scan, patients will be referred to a specialist to have further diagnostic procedures. An oral surgeon can perform a biopsy to determine the next steps, says Marilyn.
Oral cancer can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early. It’s important to be aware of any signs or symptoms.
“Twenty-five percent of the population that’s not at risk will still get oral cancer,” says Marilyn. “If not detected early, it can require major surgery, and it can be really debilitating.”
If you see or feel something that looks suspicious, make an appointment with a dentist as soon as possible.