It Only Takes a Moment to Detect Oral Cancer

Dr. Wayne Kerr


It should have been a great day. Not only was Christmas just around the corner, but my best friend was my last hygiene appointment of the morning, and we were going to grab lunch together. As I eagerly opened the reception room door to greet my buddy, however, it became immediately apparent that my plans would change. 

Even at a distance, I could see a significant lump on the side of my dear friend’s neck, and I directed him to my consultation room rather than to hygiene. Our last appointment together had been in June, and I wanted to know about the lump. It had appeared in October, I was told, and his physician advised him he suspected lymphoma. A PET scan had been ordered, but, 2 months later, he was still waiting for permission from his insurance company to have the procedure.

The lump, of course, was an enlarged deep cervical lymph node. With a sense of dread, we moved to the operatory where I palpated his neck and examined the oral cavity. And there it was: a squamous cell carcinoma on the right lateral border of his tongue. When I asked my good friend if his doctor had been at all suspicious about the lesion, his response was that his doctor never examined his mouth! Amazing!

We made alginate impressions poured with “snap stone” and fabricated custom fluoride trays during his hygiene appointment. He left our office with four tubes of Colgate PreviDent gel and instructions on the use of his trays. Two days later, I was on the phone with my friend’s oncologist discussing his diagnosis and recommended treatment. His therapy would require surgery and 30 rounds of radiation.

The regimen was brutal. Before it was all over, my best friend would lose 30 pounds and be fed through a port, as swallowing was both painful and difficult. His recovery was slow and challenging, but recover he did. And he’s alive today, because he had a preventive care appointment with his dentist.

The oral cancer screening is, of course, an integral part of every patient’s dental hygiene visit. Taking just a moment to complete, it can impact a patient for a lifetime. As a famous shoe manufacturer once said, “Just do it!”

Dr. Wayne Kerr earned a Mastership in the Academy of General Dentistry, which honored him in 2011 with its presentation of the Life Long Learning and Service Recognition Award. He has also been awarded Fellowship in both the American and International Colleges of Dentistry, as well as the Pierre Fauchard Academy. Additionally, he is a member of the Hinman Dental Society and an Honored Fellow of the Georgia Dental Association, and he has been recognized by state and local organizations as Dentist of the Year, Small Business Person of the Year, and Citizen and Professional of the Year. Additionally, he has been a Field Evaluator for the CR Foundation since 1992. He established a clinic for free dental and medical care in 1994. And, he continues to lecture to senior dental hygiene students in preparation for their national board exam. He can be reached at


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