Rick Costa says he visits the dentist’s office on average about once a year. He's a cigar smoker which puts him at risk for oral cancer. Which is why when his dentist offered a screening test four years ago, he was more than willing to try it.
“For me if you are going to engage in something that is high risk like smoking. It will establish a baseline and then if there are any changes you can catch it early and go from there."
The screening test is called Vizilight. Combined with a standard visual exam, it allows dentists to spot problem areas in the mouth early before they turn into a medical emergency.
Local Dentist Todd Sala says it’s a cancer that can turn ugly.
"Starts out looking like a cheek bite or ulcer most of the time. Then from there it can grow into losing a lot of your tongue, roof of the mouth or teeth, so it can be quite severe."
Patients like Rick rinse their mouth with a cleaning solution, and then the dentist examines the mouth with the Vizilite which is specially designed to locate suspicious lesions. They are illuminated with the help of the light.
Dr. Sala: says it makes finding a lesion a little easier.
“Shows a suspicious lesion I would more than likely refer you to an oral surgeon for a full biopsy."
Dr. Sala says the instrument is used on people who are at high risk for developing oral cancer. Smokers, heavy drinkers, and patients with a history oral cancer are in that category. But Dr. Sala believes because 25-percent of people who develop oral cancer don't have a risk factor...this screening should be part of the yearly exam for adult patients.
The screening is not picked up by insurance companies. On average it means about $75 for a patient's out of pocket expense.