Market Heights Family Dental provided free oral cancer screening services to patients of all ages this week.

The event provided education and awareness about the deadly disease and the need for people to get regular screenings, said Lindsey Tristan, dental hygienist.

“If we can catch oral cancer at an earlier level then it’s almost 80 to 90 percent curable,” she said. “Usually by the time we see a lesion, it’s already at a stage three or four cancer, and at that point it’s either terminal or there is a need for reconstructive surgery causing a person to lose part of the jaw or tongue.”

As of Tuesday, about 50 patients had taken advantage of the free screening, including Maria Edna Arechiga of Harker Heights

“It’s a safety precaution,” she said. “There’s nothing to it and it went by very fast.”

About 42,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year and the disease kills one person every hour of the day, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.

But the quick and painless screening provides early detection, said Sharon Chapman, registered dental hygienist.

“We decided to educate the community better because the demographics has completely changed and the best way to do that is to provide it at no fee,” she said. “Oral cancer was basically found in those age 50 and above who had been smokers or drinkers, but that’s not the case anymore.”

The Human Papilloma Virus, a sexually transmitted disease, has become very rampant and has made oral cancer more aggressive in young people, Tristan said.

“We are finding oral cancer in a lot of younger people who do not have any of the risk factors.”

The screening is a quick procedure that takes just a few minutes.

“If there are any abnormal cells in the mouth then the rinse solution will absorb underneath the cell, and under a special light it will stain bright white,” Tristan said.

Early indicators of oral cancer include red or white discoloration of soft tissues of the mouth and sores that do not heal within 14 days.

Advance indicators include the sensation that something is stuck in the throat, numbness, difficulty moving the jaw or tongue, difficulty swallowing, ear pain or a lump that develops in the mouth or neck, Tristan said.

For Arechiga, the screening resulted in good news.

“The dentist said everything was clear and there were no signs of anything that looked cancerous,” she said. “I’m glad I did it.”

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