Author: Tammy Adams
Today’s dental professionals routinely see and deal with many issues and conditions that were not so common just a few short decades ago. For example, there has been a marked increase in the incidence of oral cancer in the United States, sparking the need for regular oral cancer screening as part of a preventive dental checkup. This additional screening is now routinely performed in many dental practices across the nation.
The American Cancer Society estimates that around 50,000 Americans are infected with oral cancer each year. In past generations, oral cancer was mostly linked to smoking, alcohol use or a combination of the two. But even as smoking rates have fallen, oral cancer rates have risen (especially in men), and researchers have concluded that this is likely caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease.
Early diagnosis makes a difference
Oral cancer is often only discovered when the cancer has metastasized to another location, most commonly the lymph nodes of the neck. Prognosis at this stage of discovery is significantly worse than when it is caught in a localized intraoral area.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, the best way to screen for HPV-related oral and oropharyngeal cancer is through a visual and tactile exam given by a medical or dental professional, who will also perform an oral history taking to ask about signs and symptoms that cover things that are not visible.
Most of the symptoms of a developing HPV-positive infection are discovered by asking questions, using a test, a light or other device.
ADA supports dental industry with this growing challenge
In 2017, a panel of experts convened by the American Dental Association (ADA) Council on Scientific Affairs published a clinical practice guideline called the “Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline for the Evaluation of Potentially Malignant Disorders in the Oral Cavity.”
The goal of this guideline is to inform dentists, orthodontists and other dental professionals about triage tools for evaluating lesions, including potentially malignant disorders, in the oral cavity. If you’re a dentist or an orthodontist, the ADA offers the following considerations concerning the diagnosis of oral and oropharyngeal cancers:
- Clinicians should obtain an updated medical, social and dental history as well as perform an intraoral and extraoral conventional visual and tactile examination in all adult patients.
- For patients with suspicious lesions, clinicians should immediately perform a biopsy of the lesion or refer the patient to a specialist.
- Salivary and light-based tools are not recommended for evaluating lesions for malignancy.
If you are a dental professional and want to learn more about the dental industry’s role in addressing the rising occurrence of oral cancer, visit the ADA’s Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer page.