This year there will be almost 23,000 new cases of oral cancer in the United States. That's according to the National Cancer Institute.
Half those patients will die of the disease within five years, partly because it can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages. But now, there's a new screening device that could help find the disease earlier.
It's call the velscope and it uses a high energy blue-light that fluoresces green when it shines on normal tissue, but it stays dark if it shines on abnormal, potentially cancerous tissue, because that absorbs the light.
"We're looking at changes before it becomes visible to the naked eye because these diseases begin below the level of the soft tissue," said Dr. Wilfred Heilbut, DDS.
In addition to using the velscope, screening includes a visual exam of the mouth, because sometimes a professional can see oral cancer with the naked eye.
Smokers and heavy drinkers make up 75 percent of oral cancer cases in the United States, but that leaves 25 percent who get cancer of the mouth, lip or tongue for no apparent reason.
So, since oral cancer can affect men and women at any age, it is really important to see your dentist regularly so that he or she can find it early, before it becomes deadly.