Milltown dentist Dr. Anna Marie Mazoch has always been passionate about the fact that a healthy mouth meant a healthy body for each of her patients.
Whenever she began treating new patients, Mazoch was always struck by how they were impressed with the thoroughness of her oral exams – a standard practice used by dentists to check for signs of oral cancer. Mazoch's exam has always included asking the patient to stick out her tongue so that she could hold it with a piece of gauze and move it from side to side to look for any lesions. Mazoch has also always manipulated the soft tissue of the mouth, felt the lymph nodes on the neck and examined the lips thoroughly.
"About 50 percent of patients will tell you they've never had an oral cancer screening," she said.
With that in mind, Mazoch decided to start holding free oral cancer exams for the local community in an effort to spread awareness of a disease that was often deadly when found in its latter stages. She will hold her sixth annual oral cancer screening at her office just off Milltown Road near its junction with Kirkwood Highway on Saturday, April 13.
Oral cancer can strike young people exposed to the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is better known for causing cervical cancer, Mazoch said. The mucosa of the cervix is comparable to the mucosa of the mouth, making it another potential haven for the cancer, Mazoch said.
It can also strike older people who smoke or drink or do both.
Lastly, it can also strike people who never smoke or drank and were never exposed to HPV as one of the mysteries of cancer, she said.
And, oral cancer is usually found in the late stages that require radical surgery, such as the removal of film critic Roger Ebert's entire jawbone or even death, Mazoch said.
"One person dies every hour every day in the United States because of oral cancer," she said.
But, oral cancer has not received as much attention as some of the other deadly cancers out there, including breast cancer and cervical cancer, Mazoch said. Only in the last couple of years did oral cancer get more press because Hollywood film star Michael Douglas was diagnosed the disease and supported oral cancer awareness.
Mazoch has always tried to hold her free screenings in April because April and May have traditionally been oral, head and neck cancer awareness months.
The event traditionally has drawn 40 to 45 people, Mazoch said.
In addition to the manual exams, Mazoch employs the use of a Velscope, a special blue light device that causes an excitation of cells and helps her catch anything she might have missed.
Page 2 of 2 - "Some people are afraid of the dentist," she said. "But we want people to come by and get checked."
She said that included people with false teeth because they still needed their soft tissue examined.