As part of your dental check-ups, your dentist examines the skin on your lips and the inside of your mouth for signs of oral diseases. The most serious of these is oral cancer. There are also other diseases that your dentist can diagnose and treat.
Early detection of oral cancer can mean the difference between life and death, and its symptoms are visible to a dentist before they are noticeable to the patient. About 3400 of Canadians were diagnosed with oral cancer in 2010, and about 1,150 died from it.
An oral cancer exam is one more important reason to schedule regular dental check-ups. The oral cancer exam takes only minutes and is painless.
Signs of oral cancer:
- lumps or change in texture on mouth or tongue
- bleeding, numbness or sores that don’t heal
- white or dark red patches on mouth or lips
If you are experiencing changes in your mouth like these, visit your dentist immediately.
The exact cause is unknown, but risk factors include:
- heavy alcohol consumption, particularly when combined with smoking
- prolonged and repeated exposure of lips to sunlight
- gender – men are diagnosed more often then women
- poor diet
Your dentist is also on the lookout for other diseases that affect the soft tissue of the mouth. They are not life threatening, but can be uncomfortable. Treatments are available to alleviate the discomfort, and they’re often simple.
Hairy Tongue – the tongue appears hairy and discolored due to an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast. Usually caused by poor oral hygiene, or by other treatments that can make the mouth more vulnerable to bacteria, such as antibiotics or radiation treatments. HIV-positive patients are also prone to hairy tongue. May be treated by improving oral hygiene practices including mouthwashes, and antibiotics in some cases.
Cyst – a small fluid-filled sac that appears near the skin surface. Depending on size and location within the mouth, cysts may cause pain or difficulties with breathing or speech. The cyst may be removed surgically, usually a relatively simple procedure.
Geographic tongue – the tongue appears patchy with red rash-like areas that may be sensitive. This condition can come and go. It is harmless and seldom requires treatment. In rare cases where sensitivity is extreme, topical anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed.