Debunking Top 3 Oral Cancer Myths

Dentists can serve as advocates to prevent oral cancer for their patients

There are many common misconceptions surrounding oral cancer, and unfortunately, many patients lack knowledge about this potentially deadly disease. Early detection boosts survival rates to 80% – 90% in most cases, therefore oral health professionals must be advocates for their patients by educating them of the various risks and symptoms of this disease and by performing both an extraoral and intraoral cancer screening.  Below are 3 common myths about oral cancer that dentists can help debunk:

MYTH #1: I’m too young to develop oral cancer. The increase in high-risk lifestyle activities such as excessive usage of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana, meat-heavy diets, unprotected sex with the possibility of HPV transmission, and extended exposure to ultraviolet light (from natural and artificial sources), has yielded an increase in oral cancer rates for people under 40. Family health histories may also be an indicator of the possibility of earlier oral cancer development.

MYTH #2: I have no pain so there is no problem. Certain oral cancer symptoms like inconspicuous lesions may not cause any discomfort, or patients may treat minor infections related to the cancer with over-the-counter medications, which allows the disease to go unnoticed.

MYTH #3: My dental professional will find oral cancer lesions early. While patients believe that their dentist will be able to identify potential cancerous lesions, about 89% of dental hygienists currently do not administer oral cancer screening exams for various reasons, including lack of time, low confidence in performing the exam correctly, and the belief that a regular dental visit does not require such an exam.

On top of patient education, dentists can also make a few additional changes to include an oral cancer screening as part of the standard of care in their office by:

  • Providing continuing education opportunities to dental hygienists related to oral cancer detection
  • Starting a protocol that includes an oral cancer screening exam performed by both the dentist and dental hygienist
  • Modifying the patient chart to include an area for documentation of identified lesions
  • Incorporating sophisticated software technology and/or procedures specifically designed to detect early signs of oral cancer, like light-based detection systems and brush biopsies

With the support of dentists and dental hygienists alike, the patients’ risk of oral cancer can greatly be reduced.