LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - We think about taking our kids to the dentist every year, but a Lubbock surgeon tells me it's even more important to have some sort of dental screening regularly as we age.
51,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer every year.
Dr. Joe Cordero is an ear, nose and throat surgeon and a Texas Tech Physician.
He says he diagnosed one case yesterday and saw four more cases in his clinic today.
Even though smoking is the number one risk factor, he says there are many risk factors, including alcohol.
And remember, there is a high concentration of alcohol in mouthwash.
Dr. Cordero says, "I have a 17-year-old who developed head and neck cancer from his mouthwash. He was using a bottle almost every three days because he thought he had halitosis and developed oral cancer of the tongue."
Dr. Cordero says even chronic inflammation from using dentures for many years can increase the risk of oral cancer.
"We see plenty of people in their 70s and 80s who go to the dentist and start removing teeth and see a cancer behind that loose tooth."
Another big problem, he says, is the link between oral sex and oral cancer which can be triggered by HPV, the Human Papilloma Virus.
Dr. Cordero explains, "It's the same virus that causes cervical cancer. That's why that interaction is a risk factor. It literally gets into the mucosa of the tonsils and base of the tongue. And usually we see it in males in their 40s and 50s and usually it's completely painless."
Dr. Cordero says there may be no other symptom except a unique enlargement of the tonsils, something that would only be noticeable to a medical professional.
So, if you're concerned about pain in your mouth or around your teeth, an ulcer that doesn't go away, even gingivitis that is not improving with normal treatment, he says those are signs that you should see your family doctor or dentist for an oral screening.
The earlier you can find oral cancer, the better chance you have of treating it and avoiding reconstructive surgery.
Football great Jim Kelly was treated for oral cancer.
Surgeons had to remove part of the roof of his mouth and a section of his jaw and rebuild that area with a piece of bone they took from his leg.
If you're concerned about something in your mouth, especially if it's causing pain, see your doctor.