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Dental News: Better Detection of Oral Cancers

Oral cancer can go unnoticed for years. The cancer starts in the mouth and looks like one of those small ulcers we all get from time to time. The area is typically painless and difficult or impossible to see; you will likely never see it or feel it. If you do, you probably think it’s just a regular mouth sore. Most people don’t even know they have it, and left unchecked, late stage oral cancer usually requires surgical removal, a treatment that can be devastating to how you eat, how you speak, and how you look. Thankfully, dental medicine continues to advance, allowing dentists to find cancers sooner and provide patients with ever improving care.

New Advances In Dental Medicine

Dentists now have a new hand-held tool that uses blue light and fluorescence technology. The dentist wears special optical glasses to view tissues in the oral cavity. Looking through these glasses, healthy tissue naturally fluoresces as green, but abnormal tissues appear black.

New blood and saliva tests are in development too. These tests will diagnose whether you have oral cancer, but they will also be able to distinguish what kind of cancer you have, and whether it is slow-growing or aggressive.

New tests and biopsies are being developed to detect the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is more well known for its link to cervical cancer, but it has also been shown to cause some oral cancers.

Although the best form of treatment almost always involves surgery, as opposed to radiation and chemotherapy, advances in surgical techniques are making the procedures much less invasive. Robotic surgery is a new technique that has much more precision, meaning less tissue removal. A dye called Lugol solution is being researched as a way to show the surgeon where cancer has spread.

In later stages, oral cancers, just like other cancers, can spread from the original location into the lymph nodes. In these cases, the standard surgical technique has involved removing the majority of lymph nodes in the neck. But thanks to a new procedure called a sentinel lymph node biopsy, doctors only remove specific tissues to look for the spread of cancer.

Advances in dental medicine are providing earlier and more definitive diagnosis, greater comfort, alleviation of stress during treatment, and more precise treatments. 

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