Dentists nationwide offer free oral cancer screenings

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Dentists nationwide offer free oral cancer screenings

The VELscope Enhanced Oral Assessment System, manufactured by LED Dental, is one device that can be used to screen patients for oral cancer. (DTI/Photo LED Dental)
Fred Michmershuizen, DTA

Fred Michmershuizen, DTA

Mon. 2 May 2011


NEW YORK CITY: April was Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and thanks to the efforts of the American Dental Association (ADA), the Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) and hundreds of ordinary dentists throughout the country, patients were able to get screened for the life-threatening disease. In all, more than 1,250 practices across the nation registered their screening events with the OCF.

Although many dentists perform oral cancer screenings as a routine part of examinations, the ADA encouraged dentists to perform community outreach during the week of April 11-15 to provide free oral cancer screenings to people who might not regularly visit a dentist, according to ADA spokesperson Sol Silverman, DDS, a professor of oral medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

“Early detection is critical in increasing survival rates for patients who have developed an oral cancer, and recognizing and managing precancerous lesions is extremely important in prevention,” Silverman said.

One practice, the Gentle Dental Group, with offices throughout of Florida, uses the VELScope Oral Cancer Screening System as a tool in detection of the disease.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada recently cleared the VELscope System for assisting dentists and hygienists in discovering cancerous and precancerous growths that may not be apparent to the naked eye. With the VELscope System, a dental professional can screen for oral cancer in one to two minutes during a conventional examination, or during a common procedure such as teeth whitening.

Dr. Neal Ziegler, chief dental officer of the Gentle Dental Group, says his practice has always conducted annual comprehensive oral cancer screening as part of the routine dental exam. He said that oral cancer is typically discovered in the late stages of development, when the five-year survival rate is only 22 percent.

“By detecting potential problems earlier, we’ll be providing our patients with the best defense against oral cancer currently available,” Ziegler said. “Gentle Dental Group is deeply committed to providing the best dental care available for its patients, including the latest technology and techniques.”

Brian Hill, the executive director of OCF and an oral cancer survivor, also stressed the importance of early detection and the important role that dentists play.

“Early detection is important because it reduces treatment-related morbidity and improves survival rates,” Hill said.

In 2010, the National Cancer Institute estimated that approximately 36,540 people were diagnosed with oral cancer and approximately 7,880 people died of oral cancer. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) estimates that the five-year survival rate for people diagnosed early, when the disease has not spread beyond the original location, is approximately 83 percent compared to a 20 percent survival rate for those who were diagnosed when the cancer has spread to other organs.

This year, approximately 37,000 Americans will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer, and one person will die every hour of every day from this disease, according to the OCF. HPV16, one of about 130 versions of the virus, is now the leading cause of oral cancer, and is found in about 60 percent of newly diagnosed patients, the OCF reports.

In 2010, The Journal of the American Dental Association published “Evidence-based Clinical Recommendations Regarding Screening for Oral Squamous Cell Carcinomas,” which was developed by an expert panel convened by the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs. The panel’s report concluded that clinicians should remain alert for signs of potentially cancerous lesions while performing routine visual and tactile examinations in all patients during dental appointments.

Risk factors for mouth and throat cancers include tobacco use, heavy consumption of alcohol, particularly when they are used together, as well as infection with the human papillomavirus, which is better known as HPV.

“In a painless, three- to five-minute oral cancer screening, most of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer can be seen with the naked eye, felt with the fingers or elucidated during the patient's oral history interview,” said Dr. Ross Kerr, an oral medicine specialist at New York University College of Dentistry.


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