When you think of cancer, what type of cancer comes to mind? Most people will probably think of breast cancer–which is the most common type and arguably has the most awareness campaigns (pink ribbon, charitable marathons, etc.). Other common types that may come to mind could be lung or prostate–but what about oral cancer?
According to Delta Dental, oral cancer is actually the 6th most common type out there:
Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer, accounting for 30,000 newly diagnosed cases each year – and 8,000 deaths. If not diagnosed and treated in its early stages, oral cancer can spread, leading to chronic pain, loss of function, facial and oral disfigurement and even death.
Anyone can get oral cancer. Heavy drinkers and people who smoke or use other tobacco products are at higher risk. Though it is most common in people over age 50, new research indicates that younger people may be developing oral cancers related to human papillomavirus (HPV).
The good news? The earlier oral cancer is detected and treated, the better the survival rate – which is just one of the many reasons you should visit your dentist regularly. Twice-yearly dental checkups are typically covered with no or a low deductible under most Delta Dental plans. As part of the exam, your dentist will check for oral cancer indicators, including feeling for lumps or irregular tissue in your mouth, head and neck. A biopsy will be recommended if anything seems concerning or out of the ordinary.
Since early detection can save lives, why is this cancer such a concern? Well first off, even though Delta Dental says it mainly affects those over 50, young adults should still be wary of its development because of HPV.
And along with HPV, young people who get into the habit of excessively smoking and drinking are also at risk. In fact, since vaping has been on the rise with middle-schoolers and high-schoolers there may be more patients with oral cancer in the near future. Many young people think it’s somehow safer than cigarettes in terms of oral health.
While e-cigs don’t have tobacco, they do have nicotine–which if you didn’t know, is still absolutely terrible for oral health. And back to the seniors, even though this group is high-risk, there are so many of them (according to a Health Affairs study) that may not be able to get screened since they lack dental coverage:
A new study published in the December edition of Health Affairs analyzed access to dental care for Medicare beneficiaries, and the findings don’t look good. Only about 10% of older U.S. adults have dental insurance, and, of those who do, they still pay half of all their dental costs out of pocket.
The researchers looked at Medicare data to see how seniors with different income levels and types of insurance access dental care. They attributed the overall lack of coverage and high percentage of out-of-pocket spending to larger policy trends, including the exclusion of dental care in Medicare and the changing of insurance benefits for retirees.
Despite the wealth of evidence that oral health is related to physical health, Medicare explicitly excludes dental care from coverage, leaving beneficiaries at risk for tooth decay and periodontal disease and exposed to high out-of-pocket spending.
Until dental care is appropriately considered to be part of one’s medical care, and financially covered as such, poor oral health will continue to be the ‘silent epidemic’ that impedes improving the quality of life for older adults.
Instead of opting out of dental care, every demographic should be more concerned with preventive treatments.