Specialist Dental Group has launched an on-going series of blog posts by our individual dental specialists. All views provided are the dentist’s own opinions and are posted on this blog as part of our on-going efforts to educate the public about dental issues and other matters of interest relating to dentistry and healthcare.
Cancer in all terms of the word is bad. We are all aware of it. Cancer, also known as malignant tumour or malignant neoplasm, is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.
While in school, we are also taught that the word cancer may be used to refer to an evil or destructive practice or phenomenon that is hard to contain or eradicate. So there you have it; however you see it or read it, cancer is bad.
Before enrolling in dentistry, I was jus like any other “regular layman”. I know smoking is bad. People talk about it being harmful; causing lung cancer. In those days there were no laws requiring tobacco companies to place horrible cancer photos on their cigarette packaging. I did not realize that tobacco usage also leads to oral cancer as this fact was not emphasized. The incidence of oral cancer is still low compared to other types of cancer like breast cancer or colorectal cancer.
Naturally after getting onto the dentistry bandwagon, the term oral cancer suddenly became rather second nature. I learnt everything I could about oral cancer from textbooks and through tutorials during undergraduate days. My greatest exposure to oral cancer was when I started my oral surgery residency programme.
At least in medicine and dentistry, they say you do not learn and appreciate the condition until you have the opportunity to participate in the treatment planning, diagnosis and actual management of the patient. And yes we all did… the oncologists, palliative medicine physicians, the head & neck surgeons, the oral maxillofacial surgeons (OMS), the plastic & reconstructive surgeons and the prosthodontists. Cancer management is indeed a multi-disciplinary team effort to combat and fight the disease.
During my stint and path as a dental undergraduate, an OMS postgraduate resident, an OMS surgeon in public hospital and an OMS surgeon in private practice, I have come across many variants of oral cancer. My understanding and views of the disease of course evolved with age and experience. The chief cause of primary oral cancers is constant irritation of the oral mucosa (mucous membrane lining the inside of the mouth). Tobacco smoking, tobacco chewing, cigar smoking, shisha smoking, betel nut chewing etc affects the oral mucosa drastically. “Bathe” the oral mucosa with alcohol and you get synergistic effects; the risk of oral cancer increases in multiple folds!
We need to educate the public that a simple visit to the dental clinic can save lives. The dental clinic may be an undergraduate training clinic, a polyclinic, a neigbourhood clinic etc. A six monthly dental checkup is highly recommended. Your dentist is trained to look and examine the oral cavity for suspicious tell tale signs of oral cancer. Remember a prompt referral to the right specialist may just ensure you can spend the next festive season with your loved ones.
Dr Ho Kok Sen is an Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon with Specialist Dental Group®. Dr. Ho is a mentor, lecturer and examiner to students in the Graduate Diploma in Dental Implantology course at the National University of Singapore. Dr. Ho is a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons and the Academy of Medicine Singapore. He has a special interest in dental implants, jaw surgery, bone grafting and complex extractions. For more information, visit www.specialistdentalgroup.com.