Regular dental visits are about more than just cleaning your teeth. They’re also essential for screening for oral cancer. These screenings often catch cancer and other conditions early on, which gives the patient enough time to treat and recover from them. Many dentists conduct oral cancer screenings manually, but at Mill Dam Dental Care, we use an examination device called the VELscope. The VELscope allows us to conduct more precise and accurate screenings. With something as important as cancer screening, we felt it was important to go the extra mile for our patients so they could take control of their health. The VELscope is simple and easy to use, which is why we’ve implemented it in our oral health exams. In this article, we’ll talk about how the VELscope works, the advantages it provides for both dentists and patients, and why oral cancer screenings using the VELscope are important.
The Importance of Regular Oral Cancer Screenings
Oral cancer is much easier to treat successfully if it is caught in the early stages. Unfortunately, cancer doesn’t always have detectable symptoms until it has progressed into the later stages. This is why it is so important to have regular oral cancer screenings when you visit the dentist, even if your mouth seems healthy.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors and Symptoms
Oral cancer can happen to anyone, regardless of their current health status. However, there are certain risk factors that make patients more likely to develop oral cancer. Some factors are behavioral, such as smoking, heavy alcohol use, extended sun exposure, or a lack of nutrients in your diet. Other risk factors are outside of your control – for example, risk for oral cancers increases after the age of 30. Some pre-existing conditions can also put you at higher risk for oral cancer, most notably human papillomavirus (HPV).
As oral cancer progresses, there are a variety of symptoms you might notice. For example, oral cancer can cause white or red patches, sores, or lumps in your mouth that don’t heal. Oral cancer can also cause pain in your mouth or ears, make it difficult to swallow and chew, and even cause loose teeth. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist right away to address the problem.
Traditional Oral Cancer Screenings vs. VELscope Screenings
Doctors traditionally conduct oral cancer screenings manually. While wearing gloves, they will inspect the inside of your mouth for lumps, patches, and sores. They may also feel the outside of your throat and neck to check for lumps. In some cases, your dentist may also have you wash your mouth with a special dyed rinse. This dye can help dentists identify abnormal cells that they might have missed during the initial screening.
However, this more traditional approach to cancer screening isn’t as thorough as it could be. Even with a very thorough exam, dentists may miss patches of abnormal cells. VELscope allows us to conduct a more thorough exam and catch potential abnormalities earlier.
How does VELscope work?
VELscope is a unique examination device that uses fluorescence to identify atypical tissues and lesions that might be invisible to the naked eye. The tissues in your mouth emit a certain level of fluorescence on their own that is visible through the VELscope.
With the VELscope, abnormal tissues or lesions appear darker than the rest of the mouth. It creates bright, detailed images that give your dentist a full picture of the inside of your mouth. They can then use this information to recommend further treatment if necessary. Not only does the VELscope identify cancerous tissues, but it also identifies pre-cancerous areas that should be monitored.
What should I expect during a VELscope examination?
One of the biggest benefits of the VELscope is that it creates a simple and easy experience for both the patient and the dentist. It is very easy to set up and only adds a few extra minutes to the oral screening process, unlike the dyes used in other oral cancer screening processes. It is also completely painless and non-invasive.
Your dentist will still conduct a manual cancer screening first, examining the inside of your mouth as well as your throat and neck for any visible or tactile abnormalities. Then they will use the VELscope to shine a fluorescent light on the inside of your mouth, looking for any abnormalities or discoloration. If any abnormalities are present, they may use imaging technology to take photos of the tissue for further examination.
If abnormal tissues are identified during this process, you may be required to come back for a follow-up examination or a biopsy. If oral cancer or another type of abnormal tissue is present but localized to the mouth, it may be removable with surgery.
Oral cancer is more common than you might think. According to VELscope, 54,000 people are diagnosed with oral and oropharyngeal cancer per year. When oral cancer is caught in the early stages, your dentist and medical team have more time to develop an effective treatment plan, therefore increasing your chances of recovery. It’s important not to skip your oral cancer screenings using the VELscope, even if you have very healthy oral hygiene habits. Luckily, tools like VELscope make oral cancer screenings quick and easy while still being very accurate. If you’re overdue for an oral cancer screening or any other form of dental care, Mill Dam Dental is here to help. We offer a variety of specialty services, most notably sedation dentistry for all types of appointments. Send us a message or give us a call to learn more about our services.