I am looking at a case for a woman who has tongue cancer which appears to have not been treated appropriately by her general dentist, either prior to the diagnosis or after it. The standard of care for dentistry mandates that a general dentist properly screen every patient for oral cancer, especially during a “routine cleaning.”
Who gets oral cancer?:
Short answer, men are twice as likely than women to contract oral cancer. Men who use snuff of chewing tobacco are 50 times more likely to contact oral cancer. Heavy users of alcohol are also more likely to contact oral cancer during their lifetime, However, this is not the end of the inquiry, as it should be noted that 25% of those who get oral cancer are not men and drink alcohol only occasionally. This is why dentists must screen all patients for oral cancer.
Risk factors for the development of oral cancer include:
- Smoking. Unlike some other types of cancers such as lung cancer, all types of smoking significantly increase the risk of oral cancer. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes causes a six times more likelihood of getting oral cancer than non-smokers.
- Smokeless tobacco users. Users of dip, snuff, or chewing tobacco products are 50 times more likely to develop cancers of the cheek, gums, and lining of the lips.
- Alcohol consumption. Oral cancers are about six times more common in drinkers than in non-drinkers.
- Family history of cancer.
- Excessive sun exposure, especially at a young age.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV). Certain HPV viruses are increase the risk for Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC), a type of oral cancer.
What should your dentist do to properly screen you for oral cancer?
Dentists and dental hygienists examine your mouth, tongue and surrounding tissue closely looking for pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions in early stages of growth in your mouth. Your dentist should examine and feel your face, neck, lips, mouth, tongue, thyroid gland, salivary glands and lymph nodes for any abnormalities. If you have dentures or partials, they should be taken out to allow the entire mouth to be inspected. The screening is looking for the following:
- A sore, lesion or open cut that bleeds easily or does not heal;
- A color change of the oral tissue on your cheeks, gums, tongue or lips;
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust, puss pocket or small eroded area anywhere in the mouth or throat area;
- Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips or cheeks;
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.
After a definitive diagnosis has been made and the cancer has been staged, a timely referral must be made to a specialist so that treatment may begin to cure the cancer. Failure to timely refer to a specialist is another potential breach of the standard of care in dentistry that may constitute the basis for a dental malpractice claim.
Robert J. Fleming has been handling dental malpractice cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 20 years. He practices in and around the Atlanta, Georgia area including handling lawsuits in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, Cobb and other counties and nearby cities including Alpharetta, Austell, Avondale Estates, Chamblee, College Park, Conyers, Duluth, Decatur, Doraville, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree City, Riverdale, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, and Smyrna. If you have been seriously injured and would like discuss your case in complete confidence, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.