I’ve saved many teeth in my years of practicing dentistry – after all, it’s my goal to help people keep their teeth. But now I can say that I have saved a life. It wasn’t a patient or a family member or a close friend but an acquaintance who has since become a friend. I was at a dinner party when Lois approached me and said she wanted to ask my opinion. She was having a crown made but the dentist couldn’t complete the work because she had sores in her mouth that hadn’t healed. She wanted me to complete the dental work. She said that she was sucking her cheek and this caused the sores but she couldn’t stop the sucking habit.
I took her aside and asked her to pull aside her lip so I could see the area. The entire cheek side of her lower right back teeth was covered with white pustules and much of the normal tissue had sloughed off. I had never seen a condition so serious. I didn’t want to alarm her but I was emphatic that she needed to immediately see an oral surgeon for a biopsy. She asked me if it was cancer. She said she didn’t want to know if it was. My reply was that she needed to know so that it could be treated. The next day I called her to be sure that she would follow through. It took several phone calls on my part until she finally saw an oral surgeon for a biopsy.
Sadly the test was positive for well differentiated squamous cell carcinoma. Lois will need surgery to remove the cancerous tissue and part of the jawbone, and then possibly undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Rehabilitation will take over six weeks, with limited speech and swallowing. Lois is grateful to me for recognizing the pathology and for insisting that she have it diagnosed. She has a long road ahead of her, but hopefully the cancer was caught in time. I know I have saved a life. Please don’t neglect yours. Don’t let fear keep you from the doctor – oral cancer that is caught early can be treated and cured.