Most of us go to the dentist to have our teeth cleaned, but there's another important reason for regular visits particularly if you're a smoker. Your dentist may be the first one to spot cancer in the mouth.
Huong Huang was shocked to find out that she was diagnosed with oral cancer.
"I think, I just remember I was about to be 40 and I couldn't. I mean, it's not like I'd been drinking or smoking excessively, and really, there's no medical history that I could think of," she said.
Huong is one of 30,000 Americans diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, throat, or neck each year. 8,000 of them die. Hers was spotted early, removed, and she's okay now, but Dr. Marc Liechtung says that's a good lesson for the rest of us that regular visits to the dentist can actually be life-saving.
"My hygienist and I take a lot of pride that every patient does get checked, and it feels real good and real satisfying that we've helped a number of people live a lot longer and a lot healthier," he said.
Cancers of the mouth, head, and neck are more common in people who smoke or drink alcohol. If a lesion is diagnosed early, a doctor can remove it with a laser or minor procedure. A late diagnosis can mean major surgery. Most lesions don't have symptoms, but Dr. Liechtung says sometimes they can feel like a burn that doesn't go away.
So, he says, if you're feeling something like that now, you should see your dentist right away.