Going to the Dentist Could Save Your Life

Standard mouth exams and new technology like the VELscope could help detect oral cancer early.

Dentist Make sure you get an oral cancer screening next time you visit the dentist. Photo via Shutterstock.

No matter which way you spin it, going to the dentist isn’t fun—but it could save your life. A routine dental visit can the difference between letting oral cancer go undiagnosed and catching it early. That difference is a grave one since the five-year survival rate for the 42,000 Americans diagnosed with oral cancer each year rises from about 45 percent to nearly 90 percent with early detection.

Newton Dental Associates‘ Dr. Anna M. Berik is taking that statistic seriously by implementing the VELscope, a machine that helps dentists see warning signs of oral cancer, into her Newton Centre practice. The system works by releasing blue light that activates molecules embedded in the oral mucosal tissues, which then display themselves in shades of red, yellow, and green light. A report from Newton Dental Associates says the procedure, which allows Berik to identify cancer precursors in the lips, mouth, and upper throat with much better accuracy than the naked eye, adds only an extra minute or two to the appointment and is painless and non-invasive.

In the report, Berik says:

“It is important that we stay on the cutting edge of technology in dentistry because I want my patients to be able to receive the best care possible. Oral cancer is a devastating disease that can lead to many severe complications, side effects and death. With VELscope I have the ability to assess my patients’ oral health more accurately and quicker than before. Early detection is the key to fighting oral cancer.”

Even if your dentist doesn’t have a VELscope, it’s important to get oral cancer screenings, especially if you’re a tobacco user or frequent alcohol drinker. According to the Mayo Clinic, naked eye checks for discolored tissues, sores, or lumps can also be effective, so make sure that’s part of your biannual check-up. Several tests using dye and light are also available. If cavities and gum health weren’t enough to get you in the dentist chair, maybe this will give you that extra push.