• 12/30/2003
  • Dayton, Ohio
  • KFMB.COM, channel 8, Ohio

When was the last time you saw your dentist? If you’re like millions of Americans, it’s been a while. In fact, about 40 percent of Americans admit that they will not visit a dentist at all this year. But by going to the dentist, you’re not only taking good care of your teeth, you may actually be taking an important step in avoiding cancer.

The everyday task of brushing her teeth has become a daily reminder of what Betty Sawyers has gone through. On three different occasions her dentist found pre-cancerous sores in her mouth during routine exams.

“I really think that regular check ups are very, very important and fortunately, I’ve lived that. I’m not just saying it,” said Betty. Had her dentist not found the problem, Betty may have developed oral cancer. And like many patients, she may never have known anything was wrong until it was too late. “That’s a somewhat frightening thing about oral cancer is very frequently the early phases are not painful at all,” said Dr. Susan Mallery.

Dr. Mallery of Ohio State’s James Cancer Hospital says that’s where the dentist comes in. Her advice is to go to your dentist often and specifically ask them to check for signs of oral cancer. Be on the lookout for velvety white or red patches, and for sores that bleed easily or don’t heal.

While it’s true that oral cancer strikes mostly older people, it can strike anyone. “We need to be careful not to develop an age bias and just think that this is a disease of patients over 50. I mean we have certainly seen a cohort of patients in their 20’s, it seems to be even in young women,” continued Dr. Mallery.

Even though tobacco and alcohol can dramatically increase your risk, one out of every four patients with oral cancer never used tobacco or alcohol. So the next time you decide to put off that trip to the dentist, just remember that a simple exam can do more than protect your teeth, it could save your life.

Experts say if we can get into the habit of making exams more routine, we could cut down on the number of oral cancer cases in the U.S. They also add that they would like to do to oral cancer what we’ve been able to do with the rate of cervical cancer. Because so many women get regular exams, the rate of cervical cancer has plummeted in the U.S. The same could someday be true for oral cancer, if people schedule their checkups right now.

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