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COVID-19 has meant fewer CO. visits to the dentist — who also screens patients for oral cancer

Some people have been uncomfortable going to dentist during pandemic

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Most people are unaware that during their regular dental check-ups, their dentist is also screening for oral cancer. So fewer visits amid COVID-19 have prompted concern about finding it early.

Oral and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer of the mouth and upper throat) affects thousands of people each year, with a 5-year survival rate of just 60 percent. The Oral Cancer Foundation says 54,000 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed this year.

It's recommended to go to the dentist every six months for a regular visit. However, Bend dentists say that because of the pandemic, people have been pushing off their exams. Some patients haven't been seen in a year -- or longer.

"People have deferred their care and haven't come in for their routine check-ups, and we might not be catching those early lesions, like we would have been otherwise," said Dr. Eric Alston of Mill Point Dental Center.

Mill Point Dental says since the pandemic started, the number of patients coming in for a regular checkup has fallen.

Dr. Mike Longlet, co-owner of Mill Point Dental, said Thursday he found five cases of oral cancer in his patients over the past year. He studied oral cancer during his residency and says that treatment doesn't affect the survival rate -- rather, early detection does.

"One thing as dentists that we do, more than physicians, is we see patients more routinely, for dental cleanings.," Longlet said. "Historically, the survival rate of oral cancer is 60% in five years -- and treatment hasn't really changed, as far as oral cancer goes, and it doesn't affect that early survival rate. So as dentists, early detection is the key to increasing the survival rate at five years."

Alston says that with oral cancer, like other cancers, the earlier it's caught, the better the outcome will be.

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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.


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