Oral Cancer Screening Products: What Dentists Recommend

Oral cancer is a serious and potentially life-threatening disease that affects the mouth, lips, tongue, throat, and other parts of the oral cavity. According to the American Cancer Society, about 54,010 people will get oral or oropharyngeal cancer in 2023, and about 10,850 people will die from it.

Early detection of oral cancer is crucial for improving the chances of survival and reducing the need for extensive treatment. However, many people are unaware of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer, or they may ignore them until it is too late.

That’s why it is important to visit your dentist regularly and get screened for oral cancer. Dentists are trained to examine your mouth and look for any abnormal changes or lesions that may indicate oral cancer or precancerous conditions.

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But how do dentists screen for oral cancer? And what are the best products or devices that they use to perform this vital task? In this article, we will answer these questions and provide some tips on how to prevent oral cancer.

How Dentists Screen for Oral Cancer

The most common method that dentists use to screen for oral cancer is a visual and tactile examination of the oral cavity. This involves looking at and feeling the inside and outside of your mouth, including your lips, gums, cheeks, tongue, palate, floor of mouth, and throat. Your dentist will also check your neck and jaw for any lumps or swelling.

This type of screening is usually done during your routine dental checkup, and it only takes a few minutes. It is painless and non-invasive, and it does not require any special preparation or equipment.

However, a visual and tactile examination alone may not be enough to detect all cases of oral cancer, especially in the early stages. Some lesions may be hidden in hard-to-see areas, such as the back of the tongue or the tonsils. Some lesions may also look similar to normal tissue or benign conditions, such as ulcers or infections.

That’s why some dentists may use additional products or devices to enhance their screening and improve their accuracy. These products or devices are known as adjuncts, and they are designed to help dentists identify, evaluate, and mark suspicious lesions that may need further testing or biopsy.

What are the Best Oral Cancer Screening Products?

There are many different types of adjuncts that dentists can use to screen for oral cancer. However, not all of them are equally effective or reliable. According to a clinical practice guideline by the American Dental Association (ADA), there is insufficient evidence to support the use of any adjunct over a conventional visual and tactile examination.

However, some adjuncts may still have some benefits or advantages over others, depending on their features, limitations, availability, cost, and ease of use. Here are some of the most popular oral cancer screening products that dentists recommend:

VELscope

The VELscope is a handheld device that uses fluorescent light to highlight abnormal cells in the mouth. It works by stimulating the natural fluorescence of healthy tissue, which appears green under the device’s blue light. Abnormal tissue, on the other hand, appears dark or black due to its lack of fluorescence.

The VELscope is one of the most widely used adjuncts for oral cancer screening. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and endorsed by several dental associations. It is also supported by numerous clinical studies that show its effectiveness in detecting oral cancer and precancerous lesions.

Some of the benefits of using the VELscope are:

  • It is non-invasive and painless
  • It does not require any rinsing or staining
  • It can be performed during routine hygiene exams
  • It can detect lesions in hard-to-see areas
  • It can enhance patient education and awareness

Some of the limitations of using the VELscope are:

  • It is expensive compared to other devices
  • It requires special training and certification
  • It cannot diagnose oral cancer by itself
  • It may produce false positives or negatives
  • It may be affected by ambient light or other factors

Identafi

The Identafi is another handheld device that uses multi-spectral fluorescence and reflectance technology to detect mucosal abnormalities. It works by emitting three different wavelengths of light: white light for conventional examination, violet light for fluorescence visualization, and green-amber light for reflectance visualization.

The Identafi is also approved by the FDA and endorsed by several dental associations. It is also supported by clinical studies that show its effectiveness in detecting oral cancer and precancerous lesions.

Some of the benefits of using the Identafi are:

  • It is cordless, lightweight, and handheld
  • It has a simple snap-on mechanism for changing lights
  • It has a disposable mirror attachment for better visibility
  • It can detect lesions in hard-to-see areas
  • It can enhance patient education and awareness

Some of the limitations of using the Identafi are:

  • It is expensive compared to other devices
  • It requires special training and certification
  • It cannot diagnose oral cancer by itself
  • It may produce false positives or negatives
  • It may be affected by ambient light or other factors

ViziLite

The ViziLite is a disposable device that uses chemiluminescence to enhance the visualization of oral lesions. It works by activating a light source that emits a dim blue light. The light makes healthy tissue appear white and abnormal tissue appear dark.

The ViziLite is also approved by the FDA and endorsed by several dental associations. It is also supported by clinical studies that show its effectiveness in detecting oral cancer and precancerous lesions.

Some of the benefits of using the ViziLite are:

  • It is disposable and easy to use
  • It does not require any batteries or electricity
  • It can detect lesions in hard-to-see areas
  • It can be used in combination with TBlue, a dye that helps mark abnormal tissue

Some of the limitations of using the ViziLite are:

  • It is expensive compared to other devices
  • It requires rinsing and staining with TBlue
  • It cannot diagnose oral cancer by itself
  • It may produce false positives or negatives
  • It may be affected by ambient light or other factors

How to Prevent Oral Cancer

While screening for oral cancer is important, prevention is even better. There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer, such as:

  • Avoid tobacco use in any form, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, and e-cigarettes
  • Limit alcohol consumption, especially if you are a smoker
  • Protect your lips from sun exposure by using lip balm with SPF
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily
  • Visit your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings
  • Be aware of any changes in your mouth, such as sores, lumps, pain, bleeding, or difficulty swallowing
  • Seek medical attention if you notice any signs or symptoms of oral cancer

FAQ

Q: What are the signs and symptoms of oral cancer?

A: Some of the common signs and symptoms of oral cancer are:

  • A sore or ulcer in the mouth that does not heal
  • A lump or thickening in the cheek, lip, tongue, or throat
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or lining of the mouth
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Numbness or pain in the mouth or face
  • Bleeding or discharge from the mouth
  • Loose teeth or dentures that do not fit well
  • A change in voice or hoarseness
  • Weight loss or fatigue
  • Ear pain or ringing

Q: What are the risk factors for oral cancer?

A: Some of the risk factors for oral cancer are:

  • Tobacco use in any form, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, and e-cigarettes
  • Alcohol consumption, especially if you are a smoker
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which can be transmitted through oral sex
  • Sun exposure, which can damage the lips
  • Age, as oral cancer is more common in older people
  • Gender, as oral cancer is more common in men than women
  • Diet, as a lack of fruits and vegetables can increase the risk of oral cancer
  • Genetics, as some people may have a family history of oral cancer or a genetic syndrome that predisposes them to it

Q: How is oral cancer diagnosed?

A: Oral cancer is diagnosed by a combination of methods, such as:

  • A visual and tactile examination of the oral cavity by a dentist or a doctor
  • An adjunctive device that uses light or dye to enhance the visualization of abnormal tissue
  • A biopsy that removes a small sample of tissue for microscopic analysis
  • An imaging test that uses x-rays, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, or PET scan to see the extent and location of the tumor
  • A blood test that checks for tumor markers or genetic mutations

Q: How is oral cancer treated?

A: Oral cancer is treated by a team of specialists, such as an oral surgeon, a radiation oncologist, a medical oncologist, a dentist, and a speech therapist. The treatment options depend on the stage and location of the cancer, as well as the patient’s preferences and overall health. Some of the treatment options are:

  • Surgery that removes the tumor and some surrounding tissue
  • Radiation therapy that uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy that uses drugs to kill cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy that uses drugs to block specific molecules that help cancer cells grow and spread
  • Immunotherapy that uses drugs to boost the immune system’s ability to fight cancer cells

Q: How can I prevent oral cancer recurrence?

A: You can prevent oral cancer recurrence by following these steps:

  • Quit smoking and avoid tobacco products in any form
  • Limit alcohol consumption and avoid binge drinking
  • Practice safe sex and get vaccinated against HPV if eligible
  • Protect your lips from sun exposure by using lip balm with SPF
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily
  • Visit your dentist regularly for checkups and screenings
  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations for follow-up care and tests

Oral cancer screening is a vital service that dentists provide to their patients. By using various products or devices, dentists can enhance their screening and improve their accuracy. However, no product or device can replace a thorough visual and tactile examination or a biopsy for diagnosis.

If you want to protect yourself from oral cancer, you should visit your dentist regularly and get screened for oral cancer. You should also follow the prevention tips mentioned above and be aware of any changes in your mouth. Remember, early detection can save your life.

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