Thursday April 1 2004
Subject: Dental Health Month and Oral Cancer: Celebrate and Keep Smiling
Dear Dr. Mady: The members of the Essex County Dental Society want to raise awareness about oral cancer and educate the public on methods of prevention and the importance of early detection. During Dental Health Month, I thought it would be appropriate if you could address this important issue. -Dr. Andrea Silverman, President, Essex County Dental Society
Dear Dr. Silverman: Dental Health Month (aka Oral Health Month) is held every April and it represents a time that Canadians can all “celebrate the smile”. This celebration has been in existence since the 1950’s when it was held on special weeks or days. The dental health month that we know today and celebrate throughout the month of April, developed in the 1980’s as part of a dental awareness program.
Dental Health Month has been extremely successful in increasing public dental awareness and knowledge about all oral and dental related topics, including oral cancer. Dental health professionals and dental associations have been spreading the word and other information via advertising, contests, displays and numerous other special promotions. Our main goal here is to help teach Canadians to keep their oral health and teeth “Good for Life”.
I personally feel that there is no better evidence of good dental care than a lovely smile and no better evidence of good dental practices than people who are proud of their smiles! If dental health month could be celebrated my way, there would be dentists and their counterparts on every corner handing out toothbrushes tied to helium balloons with smiles on them. There would be airplanes flying banners that get everyone interested in their smile, and displays at the local malls and sport complexes with mountains of interesting and enthusiastic information. There may even be an interesting article in the local newspaper (ha).
Every smile is a winner whether it’s the smile on kid’s faces when they run in a playground, the smiles of parents and grandparents as they watch their children and grandchildren play, or the smile of a jockey on a winner.
I am extremely excited about Dental Health Month, but what interests me most is the possibility of the public becoming aware of their health. It’s all about raising awareness about health issues, a good time for “spring cleaning”. Remember that oral health is directly linked to overall health. Nutrition and digestion for the entire body begins with the mouth. In simple terms, your mouth is a window to the rest of your health. Get your mouth and health in order. Your dentist is your partner in prevention and can see things that you can’t see and may even help diagnose things that you weren’t aware of.
The Ontario Dental Association says “stick out your tongue at your dentist and it could save your life!” This is one of the main messages being delivered during Oral Health Month. Oral cancer is a very serious and often aggressive disease that commonly is asymptomatic. Go to your dentist for an oral cancer screening exam, especially if you are a smoker. This disease spreads very rapidly and kills more than a thousand Canadians every year and dentists are the health care providers that play the most critical role in detection, diagnosis and treatment. There are approximately three thousand cases diagnosed each year. Early detection is essential to dramatically increasing survival rates, and if you have oral cancer and if it is detected early, your dentist can save your life.
We hear a lot about cancer where we live, but it is not widely known that oral cancer has a greater mortality rate than both breast cancer and prostate cancer. The screening your dentist does is a quick, easy and painless way to ensure you have a healthy mouth. Dentists have the education, expertise and frequent opportunity, through regular checkups, to identify signs and symptoms of a wide range of medical conditions associated with the mouth. In other words, no other individual health care professional is in such a unique position to detect oral cancer or any other disease that shows signs in the mouth, and start the patient’s treatment and recovery process.
Do you have a sore on your lips or mouth that does not heal? A lump on the lip, mouth or throat? A white or red patch on the gums, tongue or lining of the mouth? Unusual bleeding, pain or numbness in the mouth? A sore throat that doesn’t go away, or a feeling that something is caught in your throat? Difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing? Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable? A change in your voice and/or pain in the ear? Any of these are signs and symptoms that a problem may exist.
So stick out your tongue at your dentist and get a clean bill of dental health so we can see miles of smiles!
This column is reprinted with the permission of the author and The Windsor Star. "Ask the Dentist" is written by Windsor dentist (and ECDS member), Dr. David Mady Jr.. The column appears the first Thursday of each month in the Windsor Star. Readers with questions can write to "Ask The Dentist", c/o The Windsor Star, 167 Ferry St., Windsor Ontario, N9A 4M5