The Importance of Regular Oral Cancer Screenings

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and though many people think of cancer as something they never want to face, when it comes to oral health, there is so much benefit to early detection in regard to treatment. Regular screening is simple and painless, so there is no excuse not to get checked.

“The North Carolina Dental Hygienists’ Association (NCDHA) was created in 1948 in an effort to have a voice in the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) at the state level and to be an advocate for all licensed dental hygienists in North Carolina, the dental hygiene profession and to educate the public of the importance of good oral hygiene and the role of dental hygienists,” said members of the Forsyth County component of NCDHA, led by President Beth Huff. “We offer continuing education courses to local dental hygienists within our component and are involved in community service projects in an effort to improve the oral health of all individuals, as well as to bring awareness to dental disease and prevention. Community projects include providing free dental services to families in our area, providing scholarships to dental hygiene students at Forsyth Technical Community College, donating dental hygiene supplies to local agencies, such as Elke’s Angels, Hospice Home, local women’s and children’s  shelters/centers, and we have donated our time and skills at the Winston-Salem Community Care Clinic.Our component consists of licensed dental hygienists in Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Surry, Stokes and Yadkin counties. We are licensed, highly educated and dedicated oral health care providers and educators [who] work closely with dentists to improve and protect the oral health of NC residents.”

Dental hygienists recommend becoming familiar with the way your mouth looks, so you will be able to notice any changes that may occur. Similar to self-breast exams, checking monthly on our own can bridge the gap between regular visits to our healthcare professionals; however, this should not replace regular office visits. “Evaluate the areas outside of your mouth by using your hands to massage all areas of the neck and cheeks to feel for any lumps, bumps or any sore areas,” the members advised. “When looking inside your mouth, lift your tongue up to the roof of your mouth to look under your tongue and move your tongue to the left and right to look at each side of the tongue. You can also look in the mirror and say ‘aaah’ to look at the back of your throat. Remember to look at your cheeks and feel for anything unusual, and also the inside of your lips. All of these areas are hiding places for early oral cancer lesions to appear. It is also recommended to have at least an annual oral cancer screening by your oral health care professional (dentist and dental hygienist)—especially sexually active teens. However, we encourage [all] readers to have biannual check ups with their dentist and dental hygienist and ask for an oral cancer screening!”

Routine oral care is also necessary to improve and maintain our overall oral health. “All of us should be brushing our teeth at least twice per day and flossing once per day, but the more we can do these things, the better our oral health will be, as well as our general health,” reiterated the members. “Using an electric toothbrush is recommended over a traditional brush, as they are more effective at removing plaque and food debris. Daily use of a good, germ-killing mouthwash is also recommended.”

While most people are aware that tobacco use greatly increases your risk of oral cancer, there are other behaviors that can have a negative impact, as well. “Risk factors for oral cancer include excessive tobacco and alcohol use,” said the members. “However, now one of the most common risk factors is an exposure to the HPV-16 virus (Human Papilloma Virus) and other STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases). Some scary statistics include the approximately 136 people who will be diagnosed with oral cancer each day in 2018! That is approximately 50,000 people! Of those 50,000, only slightly more than half will be alive in five years. One person dies every hour of every day from oral cancer. If diagnosed early, there is an 80–90% survival rate. However, diagnosing lesions early can be difficult, as early lesions may be missed or overlooked due to a lack of symptoms, such as pain or difference in appearance.”

In honor of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, The Forsyth Dental Hygienists’ Association will be offering free oral cancer screenings for adults on Saturday, April 14th from 10am–1pm. This event will be held at the CVS pharmacy located on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. Statistics show that nearly 10,000 people will die from oral cancer in 2018. For more information, visit www.oralcancerfoundation.orgor There are also Facebook pages for the NCDHA, The Forsyth Dental Hygienists’ Association and the Oral Cancer Foundation.


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