Dr. Drews using the VELscope to screen for oral cancer

Cancer is the second leading cause of illness and death in the United States; that's one in four individuals who will succumb to the disease. The death rate for oral cancer is actually higher than that of the death rate for cancers which we routinely hear about (cervical cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, testicular, thyroid and skin cancers). In 2011, approximately 37,000 Americans were diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer, and 66% of the time it wasn't discovered until stage three or stage four. That is over 8,000 preventable deaths. Let those numbers sink in for a minute...

Would you believe that a third of all cancer deaths can be prevented with lifestyle changes and early detection? It's true. Awareness and education have improved significantly over the last several years, and we are fortunate enough in this area to have The Patrick Dempsey Center, which has done a lot for individuals and their families dealing with cancer.

An often overlooked resource

Another, often-overlooked resource, is your friendly dental office! As many of you know, I am a bit of a technology junkie, and one of the tools that I have in my dental arsenal is the VELscope.

The VELscope is a non-intrusive, hand-held device that helps us identify and detect abnormal tissue. It only takes a couple of minutes to scan your mouth, and more importantly for anyone who has ever spent serious time in a dental chair, it is 100% pain-free. The hand piece emits a blue light, which basically "excites" the tissue from the surface (your epithelium) down to the membrane (which is the level that malignancies begin to develop). Healthy tissue will present as a bright, granny-smith-apple green, whereas suspicious areas will look darker. And that's it!

Oral cancer screening

As a new patient coming to our office, I perform an oral cancer screening with the VELscope as part of your comprehensive exam. Then our continuous care also means that every patient will have a periodic exam, often completed at the time of your hygiene appointment where we monitor your mouth for any changes or abnormalities.

In the unlikely event that any changes are detected, we are in a position to do a biopsy, and quickly refer you to a specialist if needed. As your dental provider, it is my goal to have a comfortable, trusting relationship with each of my patients. Sometimes this can mean delivering bad news, however, I also want to make sure that we can swiftly access the right treatment and services so that you do not become part of a preventable statistic!

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