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Lymphomas: What Your Dental Visit Can Reveal

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When you’re in the dental chair for a routine visit, you may be thinking, “I hope I don’t have any cavities” and, “I love how clean my teeth feel after I’m done.”

The last thing you’re probably thinking about is cancer.

Sometimes a routine dental checkup can uncover lymphoma, a type of cancer, before other signs are even present. And while a cancer discovery is not welcomed, early detection is.

About Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a cancer of the body's immune system. There are two types: Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It can show up at any age, but chances increase as you age. According to the American Cancer Society, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in the United States. Roughly 4 percent of all cancers found are non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Two Types of Lymphoma: What's the Difference?

The key difference between Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is the type of white blood cells, also known as lymphocytes it involves. According to the Mayo Clinic, this determination requires a microscope. If a specific cell called Reed-Sternberg is seen, the diagnosis is Hodgkin's lymphoma. If not, it's non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Signs and Symptoms

Healthy white blood cells travel in your body through the lymphatic system within clusters of lymph nodes. Many times, lymphomas are discovered when people find painless swelling in areas near lymph nodes. These can include swelling in the armpits, groin, abdomen, and neck.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Mouth sores, swelling, and pain

Dental Detectives

Sometimes a routine dental checkup can be critical in revealing signs of lymphoma before other symptoms occur. Swollen glands are usually painless and may go unnoticed until they are examined by a medical professional. So, when your dental professional sweeps his or her hands down your neck during an oral cancer screening, they're checking for swollen lymph nodes in your neck.

According to a review in eCancer Medical Science, oral cavity lymphomas are the third most common malignancy in oral cancers. The oral lymphoma symptoms such as ulcerations, pain, swelling, and loose teeth can often be mistaken for other conditions such as periodontal disease, which is why it's essential to have routine oral health appointments that include oral cancer screenings.

Treatment

The disease type and stage will determine lymphoma treatment. Some of the more slow-growing cases will only require blood work and symptom control. If it's a more aggressive type of lymphoma, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted drug therapies, and a bone marrow transplant are possible treatments. The goal is to destroy the cancer cells and achieve remission of the disease.

As with many cancers, early detection of lymphoma is best. While you wouldn't normally dream of connecting lymphoma and teeth, it's essential to keep up with your regular health and dental checkups. Make sure your dental appointment includes an oral cancer screening.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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