We recently had a patient come in who was concerned with a sore spot on the side of her tongue. She said the spot had been there for a few weeks and she was certain it was from accidentally biting her tongue. She was young, healthy, and had no other symptoms or significant risk factors. Because of the location, appearance, size, and duration of the lesion, we had the area biopsied and discovered that the patient had Stage II tongue cancer requiring surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Because early detection is the key to survival, at our New Patient Exam and at subsequent hygiene visits, we take the time to conduct an oral cancer screening consisting of an evaluation of the lips, cheeks, tongue, roof of mouth, back of throat, and neck. The exam only takes few minutes as we search for sores and ulcers that bleed, color changes such as red or white spots, lumps, crusts, rough spots, and thickenings. Patients are advised to tell us if they have pain, tenderness, numbness in their mouth, or difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving their tongue.
Risk factors for cancer include smoking, smokeless tobacco, extended exposure to sunlight, and alcohol consumption. We recommend use of sunblock and lip balm while conducting outdoor activities and recommend a healthy diet consisting of fruits and vegetables.
Treatment of oral cancer varies depending upon the type, size, and location of the cancer. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can create further problems including dry mouth, burning sensations, muscle tightness, sensitive teeth, secondary infections, and tooth decay. To learn more about the management of cancer therapy, be sure to check out the “Resources” tab on our website.
Time will tell how our patient is able to cope with her tongue cancer, but we are fortunate to find it early. We hope this will remind others about the importance of visiting the dentist often and insisting upon an oral cancer evaluation. The next time your dentist asks you to stick your tongue out, it could very well save your life.
If you have questions about this article, or if you are looking for a dentist in Winter Park, Florida, please call us at (407)644-2700 or visit our website.