How a dental visit can actually save your life...

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San Diego Padre great Tony Gwynn died yesterday. This saddened me greatly. I always really liked Tony Gwynn. He was one of baseball's superstars during my formative years as a fan. I knew he had been battling cancer. I did not know until yesterday that his battle was against oral cancer. He and his physicians attribute his oral cancer to his use of smokeless tobacco during his time in baseball. What a terrible thing.

This made me think about the soft tissue examination I perform on my patients. In the past, I would call this an oral cancer screening, but it is honestly much more than that because it's not just cancer we are looking for. I am looking for anything abnormal or out of the ordinary.

My soft tissue examination will consist of inspecting the floor of the mouth, under the tongue, the sides of the tongue, the top of the tongue, the cheek, the palate, the gums and both the inside and outside of the lips. Inspecting all of these thoroughly with the use of bright white light helps to find lesions when they are small and more manageable.

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Over the past few years we have seen a lot of new research coming out about the link between the HPV virus and oral cancer. We know that there are certain serotypes of HPV that can lead to oral cancer. We are now seeing young healthy patients that don't smoke or use tobacco with oral cancer. This was unheard of 10 years ago. One of my best friend's daughter recently had a fight with oral cancer from an HPV exposure. She had part of her tongue resected, chemotherapy and radiation. It was a tough fight but she is now 3 years cancer free. This is serious stuff. Obviously, early detection is always the key.

The soft tissue examination is just another reason why your dental cleanings and check ups are so important. It could literally save your life! I take this very seriously and incorporate a soft tissue examination in every exam I do. Hopefully, this is another thing that sets us apart from some other dental practices!