Self-check for Oral Cancer

A new report from the Oral Health Foundation this week says that throughout the UK oral cancer referrals have dived by 33% since the beginning of the Coronavirus Pandemic. This did not happen because fewer people have symptoms of oral cancer; it happened because referrals and exams are not happening. I have not yet seen figures for the US.oral cancer common site - paid - shutterstock 1092560240

I understand that many people are afraid to visit their dentist during the Pandemic, despite statistics arguing otherwise. In fact, I saw a note in one recent article that visiting your dentist is safer than the pharmacies and grocery stores.

Dentists have been concerned since the beginning of the pandemic that oral health issues are proceeding without diagnosis and without intervention. I’d like to suggest a compromise. If you are afraid to visit your dentist’s office you can spend less than one minute checking yourself for mouth cancer. A self-check is not a substitute for a dental exam, but it may be enough to advise you if you need to overcome your fear and visit your dentist right away.

This is how to do a self-check for mouth cancer.

  1. Use your hands to check your head and neck for unusual bumps, lumps or sores.
  2. Examine the inside of your mouth next. Check for any strange patches of white, or for a lump or an ulcer that has persisted for more than 3 weeks. Be sure to examine both sides of your mouth and the tissue under your tongue.
  3. Check the inside of your cheeks for bumps or lumps and for patches of red or white tissue.
  4. Check the roof of your mouth visually and by using your fingers for swelling or bumps.
  5. Check your lips. Pull out each lip and look for any red or white tissue.

If you find nothing unusual, you may be safe to delay your next visit to your dentist. If, however, you identify something unusual, you need to see your dentist as soon as possible. Oral cancer, when found early, is treatable and curable in many cases. If the cancer is advanced, the chances of curing it, are far less. Delaying treatment by as little as 3 to 6 months can mean the difference between a complete cure and a bad outcome.

If you have trusted your dentist in the past to protect you from infection and illness, you should be able to trust your dentist today.