Lessons Learned

AGD Impact, the Academy of General Dentistry’s monthly newsmagazine, published an article by a dentist and AGD Fellow who details his experience with oral cancer. He relays the hard lessons he learned after the loss of his loved one from the disease. The information I give you is not intended to scare you but to inform and to take any changes you see in your oral cavity seriously. The lessons he learned was that oral cancer is a killer, treatments can be devastating-and the side-effects long-term, it takes an emotional toll on everyone involved with the patient, including the dental team, it has no respect of age, and dentists have a unique opportunity to save lives by routinely performing thorough head and neck exams (Wes Blackeslee, DMD, FAGD). Dr. Blackeslee reports that it has been his experience that oral cancer is typically asymptomatic, unrecognized and diagnosed too late. The care of the cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation which can be disfiguring and can cause eating difficulties, inability to swallow, and dry mouth can linger.  Concerning age, Dr. Blackeslee discloses the journey of a 33 year old woman with oral cancer. Unfortunately, she lost the battle. As dentists we have a responsibility to perform thorough exams and inform our patients accordingly. According to the article, there is now a belief that HPV (Human Papillomavirus) begins early in life, remains dormant and then activates to initiate tumor formation years later.     

An article in the January 2021 issue of Cancer reported that HPV has replaced alcohol and tobacco as the major risk factor for oral cancer and presented three new perspectives: age, threshold and intensity. Dr. Blackeslee closed his article with a call for action…“If we actively commit to educating the public about the benefits of vaccinating against HPV prior to puberty and couple that with thorough screenings, we will decrease the number of oral cancer cases and deaths dramatically”. We can.