A Special Blue Light Can Expose Oral Cancer

Technology has changed how most of us do our jobs. That’s definitely true in dentistry.

Thousands of years ago, the Etruscans were making early attempts at tooth replacements, and most dental procedures were pretty painful for the patients.

As we’ve learned more about oral health, humans have learned better ways of preserving teeth. We’ve also learned how to perform procedures with little or no pain.

We understand that oral health is about more than just our teeth, too. Our gums and the soft tissues of our cheeks and tongue are important as well, and that’s why we also check for signs of oral cancer.

The VELscope is one of the tools that the dentists at Beaumont Family Dentistry use to examine those soft tissues for our patients from Lexington, Richmond, Georgetown, and across Central Kentucky.

What Is The VELscope?

The VELscope is part of how we examine your mouth. When we look at things with our eyes, we don’t always see everything that’s there.

The VELscope allows us to see more than we could with our eyes alone.

With this tool, we are more likely notice things that are abnormal with your “oral mucosal tissue,” which is the inside of your cheeks.

The VELscope can help us identify problems earlier than we could if we only relied on our eyesight. We think everyone understands that early detection also makes your treatment more effective.

How The VELscope Works

Many tools used to examine the inside of your mouth rely on reflected light, which does not always reveal everything there is to see. The VELscope uses the fluorescence of your soft tissues to our benefit.

This starts when we shine a blue light inside your mouth. This excites the fluorophores inside those tissues, and that affects how the blue light is reflected by those tissues.

A healthy tissue may reflect back blue light, while an abnormal tissue may reflect back green light instead. This can be a warning sign of oral cancer or other health problems.

Here are some examples of the things that may affect how the light is reflected:

  • Increased metabolic activity on the surface tissues inside your mouth
  • Broken down links in connective tissue
  • Increased blood in your soft tissue
  • Pigments that absorb light in your tissue

Why This Is Good For You

The VELscope allows us to perform a more effective screening for oral cancer.

While oral cancer may not be as common as other cancers, it’s more common than many people realize. The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that more than 48,000 Americans will be diagnosed with some form of oral cancer in 2016.

No one wants to be diagnosed with oral cancer, but we think you would agree that finding it as early as possible is a good thing.

Patients have an 80 to 90 percent survival rate if their oral cancer is detected early. Among patients whose oral cancer is detected during a later stage, 43 percent will die within five years of their diagnosis.

The two leading causes of oral cancer are tobacco and alcohol use and HPV-16.

Tobacco products contain a number of harmful substances. They also weaken your body’s immune system, which can make it more difficult for you to fight off an infection.

Alcohol dehydrates the cells inside your mouth. This makes it easier for cancer-causing substances to invade your oral tissues. Combining alcohol with tobacco use only compounds these problems.

HPV-16 is one strain of the human papilloma virus. This is the same strain that causes a majority of cervical cancer cases in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of American will contract HPV during their lives. For 99 percent of people, their bodies are able to fight off the virus without experiencing any symptoms. For the other 1 percent, the virus can be fatal if left untreated.

Putting Technology To Work

The VELscope is just one of the many ways we are putting technology to use for the benefit of patients like you.

Our ultrasonic scalers vibrate plaque and tartar off of your teeth, which is easier on your teeth that the traditional method of scraping them. We use a computerized bite analysis to identify imbalances that may be contributing to jaw pain or TMJ disorders. And we use digital imaging and intraoral cameras to examine our patients’ mouths from new angles and perspectives.

When you visit any Beaumont Family Dentistry, feel free to ask questions about the different ways we include technology in our practice. Click on the name of the office closest to you or call to make an appointment for a cleaning and screening.