Dental checkups are critical for healthy and long-lasting teeth, but they can also help with the detection of serious and even life-threatening forms of oral cancer.

Dentists are often the first to identify growths or suspicious-looking areas in the mouth of patients that could be the first sign of oral cancer – including oral cavity cancer, such as in the lips or tongue, and oropharyngeal cancer, more commonly referred to as throat cancer.

And early detection and treatment as soon as possible are important for defeating oral cancer, which can also occur in the cheeks, gums, tongue, and floor and roof of the mouth. 

“Although oral cancer is rare, it’s something a dentist should be looking for,” said Dr. John Luther, Chief Dental Officer of Western Dental. Dr. Luther knows firsthand how a routine dental examination can uncover a more serious issue: he diagnosed his own lip cancer and was successfully treated. “You need to have your dentist do this routinely to check for lesions, lumps and bumps.”

Dr. Luther discussed the importance of early detection on NBC’s Today Show on May 16 during an interview with professional tennis player Nicole Gibbs.
A dentist recently discovered a growth on Gibbs’ mouth during a routine checkup. Gibbs, 26, was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer – a very rare form of cancer that affects about 1 of every 100,000 people, according to the American Cancer Society. 

Gibbs, who advanced to the third round of the U.S. Open in 2014 and the Australian Open in 2017, will have surgery Friday and miss the French Open that starts May 26. But Gibbs plans to participate in the qualifying matches for Wimbledon in late June.

Gibbs is the latest well-known athlete or entertainer to be diagnosed with oral cancer. Many celebrities, including actor-producer Michael Douglas and guitarist Eddie Van Halen, have battled and defeated oral cancer, thanks to early diagnosis and treatment. 
Currently, an estimated 91,000 people in the U.S. are living with oral cancer, and about 39,000 new cases are diagnosed every year, according to the National Institute of Health. About 8,000 deaths are connected to oral cancer every year in the U.S.

Many of those deaths could be prevented with early diagnosis, according to many reports. The five-year survival rate for oral cancer diagnosed early is 75 percent, but the rate drops dramatically to 20 percent with a late diagnosis, according to the NIH.

“The routine checkup can be much more than just routine,” said Dr. Luther. “As I know, it can help save your life.”

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