Dentist fired a ray-gun into my mouth today, to check for cancer. (?)

At a normal routine 6-month cleaning at my dentist, the hygienist got through the normal ritual of scrape, floss, brush, scrape. Then (and this was new to me) she pulled out a damn ray-gun. :smiley:

“This is to check for cancer. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt. Might be a bit warm because of the heat it generates, but it’s painless.”

And it was. And, apparently, I’m free of oral cancer.

I googled around a bit and found a few manufacturers of things like the Velscope

OK, I get the general idea. Healthy tissue should fluoresce under this magic light (at whatever wavelength it runs), but cancerous growths shouldn’t?

Why is this? What frequency of light makes healthy tissue fluoresce? Why? And why wouldn’t a cancerous growth do the same?

I’m just genuinely curious. It seems like a really neat technology.

1920s-style Breath Ray?

So, you were judged free of oral cancer. . .by the hygienist?

The reason they’re now checking for oral cancer is because of the prevalence of Human Papilloma Virus(HPV) in the population. There are over 50 varieties, and almost all of them are harmless or cause plain old warts or, unhappily, genital warts. In some instances, HPV can cause cervical, penile, anal, or mouth cancer. There are two varieties, 16 and 18, which can cause mouth and throat cancer.

It used to be extremely rare for anyone to get mouth or throat cancer without being a long-time smoker, but there’s been a spike in oral cancer among non-smokers, and on researching things, what we discovered was that HPV infections which had previously been restricted to the genital/anal area are now present in the mouth. All that oral sex, you know. It’s apparently more prevalent in men than women.

I don’t know why UV light would show up HPV infections. The standard test I’m aware of is to brush everything down with a 5% vinegar solution, which then turns the HPV-infected areas white.

(My maternal grandmother died of mouth and throat cancer in the early '80s, and her doctors were baffled that she got it when she’d never smoked or dipped a day in her life. I guess I know why now, though it’s not something I bring up at family gatherings, you understand.)

just a guess but cancerous tissue might grow too thick for the proteins to get excited.

i am curious too, maybe i will find out more and comment later.

I think it might be a new thing. My cousin is in dental hygienist school, and I volunteered to be one of her “test subjects,” the other week and she did an oral cancer check as well.

I don’t remember ever getting checked for oral cancer by my hygienist OR dentist as a kid or teenager, which was the last time I had any sort of dental check-up (~10 years ago…yeah, I know, but I didn’t have any dental insurance for several years, ok?)

The hygienist at my dentist has been doing oral cancer checks for several years. Not with a ray-gun, though, just visual and poking around. Seems like a good idea to me.

I’m sure the hygienist would refer anything suspicious to an appropriate authority on the matter. I agree, a good idea it is.

My hygienist checks for cancer too by poking around and looking. My guess, though, is that if there’s something visibile or palpable, it might be pretty far advanced. I wanted to look at those case studies on the Velscope web site, but they aren’t there yet.

My hygienist did the oral cancer screening with the ray gun, general poking around, and a full on gum and lip massage. It alternated between wonderfully soothing and dreadfully uncomfortable but despite smoking for 10 years my mouth passed the tests. I had to rinse with something for the ray gun test but I don’t remember what it was or how it works.

I know! It’s crazy! I don’t doubt that if she saw something suspicious, she’d call the proper DDS in to have a look, but if it works like it claims to, a “ray-gun” that finds cancer is neat technology.

When I had the same test a couple years back, the rinse was acetic acid (basically really strong vinegar). Note that, at least here in the States, most dental insurance doesn’t cover this test – I had to pay something like $40 for it.

Maybe this question could be moved to GQ. So far nobody seems to know how this raygun works in this forum.


There is some really interesting discussion among dental professionals in the comments here:

Can anyone find this JADA article?

From the abstract here:

It sounds like there is some use for these devices. In addition to a regular screening, it might find cancers otherwise undetectable.

Judging from the discussion on the first link, some dentists are using these to rule out cancer. That could be very dangerous.