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Dental Health

A Routine Oral-Cancer Exam Could Save Your Life

Each year, over 49,000 cases of oral cancer are detected in the U.S.; even more alarming is that one person dies from the disease every hour.

But the high death rate associated with oral cancer isn’t because it’s hard to find or diagnose – it’s just usually detected late. “Many people don’t realize that an oral cancer exam is a routine part of a regular cleaning performed by your dentist or hygienist,” explains Dr. Gregory J. Wych, DDS, of The Art of Dentistry in Irmo, SC ( “But less that fifty percent of adults regularly go to the dentist, when they should be going three-to-four times a year.”

Since physicians don’t customarily perform this exam, just skipping a dental appointment leaves a large enough time window for cancer to go undetected and spread. Plus, oral cancer is often metastatic (meaning, it has progressed from other parts of the body), which gives it ample time to deeply invade local structures. (

Here’s the good news: taking precaution and getting screened for the disease is very easy – not to mention potentially lifesaving.

An oral cancer exam is performed in two steps: First, your dentist or hygienist will pull on your tongue and press on tissues, examining its lateral sides and the floor of the mouth. If anything looks suspicious (or if you use tobacco products and are predisposed to cancer), then he/she will perform a brush biopsy or use a ViziLite screening – a device that employs light to spot abnormal changes inside the mouth.

“If your dentist notices anything unusual with your mouth tissue, he’ll take a biopsy and send it to an oral surgeon,” Wych says. “A specialist is best equipped to examine the sample under a microscope, which is the only true way to determine whether it’s cancerous or malignant.”

Wych assures that you can expect an oral cancer exam at your next dental check up – but there’s no harm in double-checking with your dentist or hygienist. “Patients are asking me questions all the time,” he says. “Go ahead and outright ask if you’ll be receiving an oral cancer examination. This is your health, after all.”

Brooke Sager is a NYC-based writer who specializes in lifestyle, health, and beauty. To read more of Brooke’s work, visit:


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