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Heroes are often faced with life-and-death situations, and the outcome hinges on taking the right action. With that in mind, here is some data from the Oral Cancer Foundation: One person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day. During its early stages, it frequently spreads without pain or recognizable symptoms. But, there's also good news — when found early, oral cancers have an 80% to 90% survival rate. Nationally, 100 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each day.
Digital imaging methods are available that provide more precise and detailed views of the dentition than ever before. These digital images, especially 3-D scans, allow us to discover cancer-related issues as early as possible and build our practices in the process.
Recently, one of my patients, a 66-year-old former heavy smoker, noticed a knot under his right mandible. He had recently lost a friend to oral cancer and thus was very apprehensive. After taking digital X-rays, we also decided to take a cone beam scan with my GXCB-500™ (Gendex). A view from the lingual side showed erosion through the lingual plate, right into the bone.
After consulting with an oral surgeon and using the i-CATVision software that comes with the system, a biopsy was performed. The patient was relieved to hear that the lump was not cancerous, but simply benign dysplastic tissue that would need to be monitored over time. This time, the diagnosis resulted in a lucky patient, but not from a lucky guess.
In a busy dental office, screening for oral cancer should not be hurried or excluded due to time constraints. Digital X-rays are quick and allow me to provide more care for patients during shorter appointment times. Besides the time savings, a cone beam scan helps to avoid invasive and costly exploratory procedures.
One study estimated that finding oral cancer early saved $22,000 in health-care costs to the patient for each additional healthy year. Patients appreciate our interest in their health and their finances. Depending upon the case, many dental or medical insurers will pay for a 3-D scan for a diagnostic procedure.
Screening for oral cancer during routine exams costs me almost nothing, but the returns in patient loyalty and referrals are substantial. Cone beam technology brings my practice more economic benefits than meet the eye. Patients are already impressed with my investment that promotes precise diagnosis.
In addition, 3-D scans enhance patients' security and trust as well as increase treatment acceptance. Patients who trust their dentist are less likely to become “dentist shoppers.“ They are loyal and will return for dental care throughout their lives.
Also, when friends and family ask for a referral, satisfied patients will recommend our practice and tell the story of how our 3-D digital technology either saved them from a lot of hassles, or the best case scenario, saved their life.
For detection of oral cancer, there's no scrimping on equipment that facilitates diagnosis and future treatment planning. Building a reputation for having the latest technology is definitely a practice builder, but the real bottom line is that building a reputation as a potential lifesaver is the best return on investment of all.
Dr. Terry L. Myers is a fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry and a member of the Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and the Dental Sleep Disorder Society. He has a private practice in Belton, Mo. Contact Dr. Myers at [email protected].