During a typical dental examination, the dentist is primarily concerned with detecting cavities, broken teeth, gum disease, oral cancer, and other abnormalities. Before the dentist begins this process, he or she should first look for any signs of disease visible on the face or neck. By frequently seeing a patient, the dentist has an important opportunity to pick up undiagnosed diseases, if possible.
One of the most noticeable conditions that a dentist can find is skin cancer, especially when it appears on the face. Dentists who see a suspicious bump on the skin should inform and then refer their patient to a dermatologist as soon as possible.
The most common types of skin cancer are basal and squamous cell, and about 85 percent are located on the head and neck. Unprotected exposure to sunlight is the single most important factor associated with the development of skin cancer.
Fair-skinned people and those who spend more time in the sun are at an increased risk. Basal and squamous cell skin cancers start as small, pearly, pale bumps on the skin, and other forms look like a red, scaly, flat patch. Although these types of skin cancer usually do not spread to other parts of the body, if not completely removed, they will frequently invade and destroy the skin, muscle and nerves in their path. Fortunately, basal and squamous cell are usually recognized in their early stages, so they are more easily cured.
There are several successful ways to treat skin cancer, and the method chosen depends on the location of the cancer, its size, and previous treatments. Some dentists prefer the MOHS surgery technique, because the percentage of success is very high -- often 97-99 percent, even if other forms of treatment have failed. The advantage of MOHS surgery is that by using a microscope, the MOHS surgeon can pinpoint areas with cancer and selectively remove it.
This technique allows as little healthy tissue as possible to be removed, and has the highest possible chance for a cure. To help prevent skin cancer, dentists suggest that when enjoying the sun, sunscreen containing a SPF of 25 or greater and UVA and UVB protection should be used for all exposed areas. It is best to apply the sunscreen about 20 minutes before going outdoors, and to reapply it liberally after swimming or exercising.
In addition to a sunscreen, a broad-brimmed hat and clothing can offer further protection from the sun.
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