WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- A trip to the dentist was the difference between life and death for a Utah man who was diagnosed with oral cancer.
In December, David Aaron had a bad toothache so he went to Dr. Danny Le at BKP Dental in West Valley City.
"He went in and ended up getting a root canal, "said Melissa Aaron, David's wife.
Dr. Le said he spotted an anomaly.
"I did an oral cancer screening for him, and I found a very small white and red patch on his tongue," Le said.
Dr. Le referred David to an oral surgeon for a biopsy. They made a frightening discovery: stage 3 oral cancer.
"It's a pretty aggressive form of cancer," Melissa Aaron said.
David underwent surgery, where doctors removed his tongue.
"They did a reconstruction of the tongue with tissue from his leg," Melissa Aaron said.
Oral cancer affects the skin inside the mouth and tongue. About 48,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year. If it's not caught early it can be fatal, and one person dies every hour from oral cancer.
Larilyn Dang is a registered dental hygienist and instructor at Roseman University College in South Jordan. She says oral cancer screenings should be part of every routine visit, but not every dentist follows the guidelines. Most people don't think to ask for one.
"It's very painless and very quick," Dang said. I'll look into the mouth, check for any lesions."
They'll pull the tongue aside, as that's where many of the cancers are found.
For now, David is focusing on treatment. His family is grateful the cancer hasn't spread and urges others to get screened.
"It's a very good prognosis," Melissa Aaron said. "He'll do radiation, possibly chemo. It's definitely opened our eyes as far as going in for your regular dental checkups, just for your overall mouth health."
David's family has set up a fundraising account at Utah First Credit Union under: David Aaron.