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Oral Cancer The Unpleasant Reality — Part 4

  March 02, 2018

By Alexander Germanis

Learning from mistakes is a vital part of growth. We start making mistakes nearly from birth and certainly throughout childhood. It is through those mistakes that we better ourselves and, hopefully, make fewer mistakes as the years pile up.

However, learning from the mistakes made by others can teach just as effectively without the added unpleasantry of having to live with the consequences of making bad choices. Seeing the effects of those mistakes on others can and should act as an effective deterrent.

As dental hygienists at McLean County Dental, Kelly, Jill, Katy, Ashton, and Christie have seen just how effective a deterrent the horrifying effects of oral cancer can be.

A collective term for numerous cancers — those of the lips, sinuses, throat, the floor of the mouth, tongue, and palates — smoking, chewing tobacco, alcohol use, the human papillomavirus, and even lengthy sun exposure are all factors that raise your risk for oral cancer.

Avoiding the myriad causes of oral cancer should, in most cases, prevent anyone from getting the disease. However, many people think they can continue to take those chances or make those mistakes and they will never suffer the consequences.

The hygienists want to make it clear that those consequences are so unpleasant that taking any risk is not worth it. “The first time I ever saw it on a patient was when a  90-year-old came in and was talking about how all of their friends had passed away and how lucky they were,” Christie recalls. “But all of their lower teeth were covered in tissue that looked like raw hamburger. That was my very first time I ever saw oral cancer.”

Oral cancer can also present itself as ulcers. “The ulcers could be white, red, black, or purplish,” Jill says. “And we can’t see them until it’s far along. More than half of oral cancers, by the time we see them, have already spread to the lymph nodes or somewhere else in the body.”

If oral cancer takes hold and spreads, the results can be truly horrific. Jill remembers a patient who eventually succumbed to their bout with oral cancer. “They literally had a hole in the roof of their mouth. The cancer had eaten through the palate,” she shares. “That person did not live that long. If they had come to a dentist on a regular basis, this would have never happened. We would have caught it before it was too late.”

Even if it is caught in time to save your life, as Christie states, there can be serious disfigurement issues. “You end up missing some of your jaw or tongue. Or, there’s a hole in your face and it needs to be reconstructed with metal framework.”

“Nobody wants cancer of any kind,” Jill adds, “but I would rather have my leg taken off than half of my face. That is what happens with oral cancer, you can lose half of your tongue, half of your jaw, half of your face. You can’t eat and you can’t talk because half of your tongue is gone. You’re disfigured. It is a very horrible cancer to have.”

Kelly, Christie, Jill, Katy, and Ashton have heard the following words from far too many patients about oral cancer: “I had no idea it was going to be so bad.” They do not want to hear that from anyone else.

“Your mouth affects your whole body. Come for your annual dental visits.” Kelly urges. An oral cancer screening takes five minutes, and it just may save your life.

To learn more about oral cancer, its effects, treatments and prevention, read next month’s issue of Healthy Cells. If you missed the previous articles in this series, you may read them online at, or contact Cheryl at 309-664-2524.

For more information or to schedule a dental check-up, you may contact Emil Verban Jr., DDS at 309-662-8448 or visit McLean County Dental is located at 2103 E. Washington Street in Bloomington. Dr. Verban provides his patients both general dentistry expertise and the ability to provide specialized services such as sedation dentistry, cosmetic procedures, and dental implants.
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March 02, 2018


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