Healthy Mouth, Healthy Life: The Importance of Cancer Screenings & Regular Checkup

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Did you know that over 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer each year? The tragic reality is that 9,750 of those diagnosed will die from their disease. This relatively high death rate compared to other cancers is due to the fact that oral cancer often goes undiscovered until late in its development. Thus, routine dental checkups and oral cancer screenings are key to reducing these numbers.


Routine Dental Checkups

Children and adults should go to their dentist at least once every six months for a cleaning and oral exam. For those with a history of mouth disease or preexisting oral conditions, this might not be often enough. Talk to your dentist about finding the right checkup schedule for you.

Data shows that many people have fallen behind on their dentist visits over the past year. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, most dental practices were seeing patients on an emergency basis only. Although most offices have now reopened in full, appointments are still lagging: Sixty-six percent of dentists report that their patient volume remains below pre-COVID levels. Most dentists also say they have the ability to accommodate more patients than are currently scheduled.

Few people love going to the dentist, but even fewer understand how important it is—not only for your oral health, but for your physical health in general. Oral health is inextricably linked to the health of the larger human body. In order to prevent minor inconveniences like cavities, as well as severe health conditions like endocarditis and cancer, it’s vital to get regular dental checkups.

Dentists are unable to make a definitive cancer diagnosis during a routine checkup; however, they can check for warning signs and suspicious growths that warrant further evaluation. Possible symptoms of mouth cancer that dentists look for include:

  • White or reddish patching on the inside of the mouth
  • Lip and mouth sores that don’t heal
  • Loose teeth
  • Mouth and/or ear pain
  • Difficulty and pain with swallowing
  • Growths and lumps inside the mouth

There’s no need to panic if you experience any of the above symptoms; keep in mind that many of them can be attributed to other, far less serious conditions. However, it’s always a good idea to consult with your dentist about any oral health issues. Whatever the root cause, your dentist can help you seek treatment and get relief from pain and discomfort.


Oral Cancer Screenings

While routine dental checkups may help identify early warning signs of mouth cancer, forming a diagnosis requires an oral cancer screening. An oral cancer screening is an examination performed by a dentist or doctor to detect cancer or precancerous conditions in the mouth. These screenings help catch mouth cancer early, when survival rates are much higher and there is a greater chance of making a full recovery.

Your dentist may decide that an oral cancer screening is right for you if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • Previous oral cancer diagnosis
  • History of sun exposure
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Tobacco use (including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, snuff, and more)

Dental professionals across the country are working diligently to detect oral cancers early and promote better patient outcomes. To learn more about oral cancer, browse the American Dental Association’s resources at