April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month.  In this article, Dr Andrea Shepperson, Lead Dentist at  Lumino City Dental at Quay Park describes a recent case of mouth cancer.

John first came to see me about his smile. He’d read about Digital Smile Design and knew his mouth wasn’t in a great state of repair.  He needed extractions and dentures.  Digital Smile Design (DSD) is a way to provide a smile that is in harmony with your facial features and personality using precision planning and digital technology.

Every patient receives a comprehensive examination in our office, with a 7 step risk assessment, even if their main concern is their appearance.  One of our assessments is an Oral Cancer Screen. 

We didn’t get to complete DSD because we discovered something that needed urgent attention.

John’s dental history revealed a hard working life, with smoking and alcohol part of life’s response to stress and a way to relax.  Dentistry hadn’t always been a priority and his mouth wasn’t in great shape. This was no surprise to John and he was trying to turn a corner in life and sought our help.

The Oral Cancer Examination

When we carry out an oral cancer examination we inspect the entire lining of the mouth and throat, feel the tongue and tissues for lumps and surface changes, inspect the skin on the face for any obvious areas of concern and palpate the lymph nodes in the neck for enlargement.

We also take a full set of photos which allows to zoom on a screen and inspect areas of concern more closely.  In our office we also use a Velscope, a fluorescent screening light developed in British Columbia, Canada for recognizing hidden areas under the lining of the mouth.

John’s examination revealed an irregular white patch under his tongue in the floor of his mouth.

Here’s what it looked like:

There was no pain or awareness and other dentists had not referenced it.

This raised a red flag and we were right to be concerned.  We referred John immediately to an Oral Surgeon for a biopsy to verify the changes; were they harmless or not?

The Results

The diagnosis was a squamous cell carcinoma. This is a common oral cancer related to smoking and alcohol consumption.  John was immediately referred to the Auckland DHB Head & Neck Cancer team who operated to remove the cancer and fortunately he faced no invasion of the muscles or jaw bone and no lymph node involvement.  He was a lucky man and we felt relieved that an early referral had helped save him from more extensive treatment, or helped save his life.

What Are The Risks of Oral Cancer?

  1. Tobacco use is still considered the main cause of mouth cancer. According to the World Health Organisation, up to half of current smokers will die of a tobacco-related illness – including mouth cancer.
  2. Drinking to excess can increase the risk of mouth cancer by four times. Those who smoke and drink are up to 30 times more likely to develop mouth cancer.
  3. Mouth cancer is twice more common in men than in women, though an increasing number of women are being diagnosed with the disease.
  4. Age is another factor, with people over the age of 40 more likely to be diagnosed, though more young people are now being affected than previously.
  5. Poor diet is linked to a third of all cancer cases.
  6. Experts suggest the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), transmitted through oral sex, could overtake tobacco and alcohol as the main risk factor within the coming decade.
  7. Cancers can occur in any part of the mouth, tongue, lips, and adjacent areas like the throat, salivary glands, pharynx, larynx, sinus, and other sites in the head and neck area.

The chance of survival is greatly improved if the cancers are detected early and treated rapidly.

Early Detection Saves Lives

With oral cancers, the key is spotting early on: early detection results in a roughly 90 per cent survival rate, compared to a 50 per cent survival rate for delayed diagnosis.

We campaign at Lumino to raise awareness of the issues, and encourage you to have a dental examination.  Mouth cancer causes more deaths per number of cases than breast cancer, cervical cancer or melanomas.  Worldwide, over 460,000 people are expected to die from mouth cancer each year by 2030.

The Aftermath

John was extremely lucky that the cancer was detected early.

Mouth cancer patients suffer greatly owing to disabilities such as facial deformity, loss of teeth and damage to the tongue and throat, with consequent difficulty in talking and eating in public places. They do not receive the attention and support that other cancer sufferers do.

How Often Should I Have an Oral Cancer Examination?

At every dental examination and hygiene visit, ideally twice a year for a hygienist visit and every 12 months for a dentist visit

We Are Your Mouth Cancer Champions

Dental health professionals are the natural leaders to lead the fight against mouth cancer.  Your dentists and hygienist is trained to examine your mouth for oral cancer.

Getting Affordable Help

Lumino offers a number of ways to keep your mouth healthy:

The Lumino Dental Plan provides an annual examination, xrays and two standard hygiene visits for less than a dollar a day.

Ask your dentist if you are suitable for the Lumino Dental Plan and your Lumino Clinician will advise you. It may not be suitable for someone with complex issues, or moderate gum disease and you may need treatment above and beyond the plan with our hygienists.

Q Card financing. Use our interest-free finance plan to help get needed care or fund that special project, such as crowning heavily filled teeth or improving your smile.