Can your dentist detect oral cancer? The short answer, unfortunately, is no. The long answer is – not always. Many symptoms of oral cancer, such as formation of lesions in the oral cavity, swelling, difficulty in swallowing and loose teeth, are also shared by some very common dental problems. Hence, it is not easy to determine the presence of cancerous cells just by physical examination, or examination of the patient’s medical history, which is what most dentists rely on. Oral cancer, just like any other form of cancer is caused by the uncontrolled and concentrated growth of cells. And like other forms of cancer, it doesn’t have a specific causing factor, but multiple risk factors.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
It has been well advertised that consumption of tobacco, either through smoking or chewing increases the chances of oral cancer. There is also a higher risk for people whose parents had cancer. Over-consumption of alcohol has also been found to increase the risk of oral cancer. People in their forties or older have a higher chance of developing cancer.
Diagnosis of Oral Cancer
The most common symptoms of oral cancer are formation of red and white patches in the mouth, oral ulcers that never heal, tooth mobility, difficulty in consuming food and sometimes difficulty in speaking. The first stage of diagnosis done by dentists is a standard examination of different parts of the oral cavity for evidence of cancer. Some dentists may perform certain chemical tests or radiation tests to ascertain whether a biopsy is required or not. A biopsy, where a small sample of cells is collected from the patient to test for the presence of cancerous cells by an oral surgeon (not to be mistaken for a dentist). A biopsy is the only conclusive method to determine the development of cancer. Since a biopsy by an oral surgeon is considerably expensive, dentists perform preliminary tests and only recommend a biopsy following reasonable evidence. The problem is, most of these tests performed independently may give false positives, i.e., false evidence to indicate the presence of cancer. Relying on these results may cause unnecessary expenditure since the Canadian health care system does not cover dental examinations.
Can a Dentist Detect Oral Cancer?
Since these tests performed by dentists only have a limited amount of success in diagnosing the presence of oral cancer, the surest way to determine the need for a biopsy is to perform a combination of these tests, and by examining the results of these tests, a recommendation for a biopsy can be made. The earlier this is done in the formation of the disease, better will be the chance of effective treatment.