It’s Not Just a Cleaning!

Dr. Carrie L. Polster Dentist Midland Park, New Jersey

Dr. Carrie Polster is a Dentist practicing in Midland Park, New Jersey. Dr. Polster specializes in preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases and conditions associated with the mouth and overall dental health. Dentists are trained to carry out such treatment as professional cleaning, restorative, prosthodontic, and... more

Approximately 40,000 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States alone. If diagnosed in the early stages, oral cancers have an 80-90 percent survival rate. Unfortunately, most are found at a late stage which has a 45 percent death rate at five years from diagnosis. This is a very alarming statistic, especially since the occurrence has been increasing steadily for the last five years.

A valuable new tool for the early detection of oral cancer is now available. It utilizes visible light and a special filter to help locate oral cancer before it can be seen by the naked eye or even with magnification. Early detection is the key to increasing the survival rate for oral cancer, so it is comforting for patient and dentist alike to know a potential problem was not there just six months ago.

When my patients come in for their dental cleaning appointments, I do a thorough dental examination, checking for cavities, broken teeth, or fillings. I then perform an oral cancer screening. This includes checking the cheeks, tongue, lips, and tissue inside the mouth as well as glands and lymph nodes in the neck. I also examine the gums for periodontal disease.

The primary reason for tooth loss in an adult is periodontitis (gum disease). If caught early we can treat and prevent the progression of this infection. If you have a heart valve or joint replacement, you need to take antibiotics prior to dental treatment. I feel this alone should be a sign that there is a link between your overall health and the health of your teeth and gums.

I have had patients miss their cleaning appointments for as long as two or more years, citing a lack of insurance or other reasons. I feel very strongly that patients should be aware that they are not missing just a cleaning but also an important examination and screening. If oral cancer is diagnosed, I would feel more comfortable telling a patient:  it was not present at your appointment just six months ago.

All statistics in this article were taken from The Oral Cancer Foundation, Inc.