Ask a Hygienist: At-home Oral Cancer Screenings

The month of April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month.

A misconception with oral cancer is that it is only found in people who use tobacco. However, while that is a common risk factor, oral cancer is also found in people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, with certain types of HPV, and even in those with no risk factors at all!

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, an estimated 54,000+ people will be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2021:

“Of those individuals, 43 percent will not survive longer than five years, and many who do survive to suffer long-term problems, such as severe facial disfigurement or difficulties with eating and speaking. The death rate associated with oral and oropharyngeal cancers remains particularly high because the cancers routinely are discovered late in their development.”  

Oral Cancer Foundation, March 25, 2021

At Five Pines, we perform oral cancer screenings at every routine exam. We also check your neck and thyroid during this examination. But just as you should be aware of your body and doing self-exams for other cancers, we thought it would be appropriate to share how you can do an oral cancer screening yourself at home!

First, grab yourself a flashlight. Following these steps, you’ll be looking for sores or ulcers that have been persistent for more than two weeks, lumps, areas of white patches, or areas of redness that are noticeably more red than normal areas of your mouth.

  • Feel your neck for painless, fixated lumps on the outside of your neck that have been there for more than two weeks.
  • Check the outside and inside of your lips. Pull your lip down as far as you can and check the tissues down the bottom of your lip. 
  • Look at the inside of your cheeks. Feel around with your fingers for lumps. 
  • Check underneath your tongue and the floor of your mouth for any discolorations. Also stick out your tongue to check the back and sides of your tongue. It helps to grab onto your tongue with gauze or a washcloth. 
  • To see the back of your throat, say “aaah” and look for any unusual spots in the back of your throat. 

If you find something suspicious or aren’t sure about something, let us know. You should also inform your dentist if you have difficulty swallowing (as if you have something stuck in your throat), a hoarse/sore throat that doesn’t go away, or difficultly moving your tongue or jaw.

As Dr. Zeller says, it’s important to know what your mouth looks like normally so that you can detect any changes! We hope you’ll add at-home screenings to your routine and as always, feel free to reach out with any questions.

References: https://oralcancerfoundation.org/april-is-oral-cancer-awareness-month-2021/

Do you have a dental question for Laurena? Email clinic@fivepinesdental.com and let us know what’s on your mind.