A ROUTINE dentist visit and oral health check may have saved this man's life as it uncovered mouth cancer.
David McNamara, originally from Dublin and now living in Galway, is now one-and-half years clear of cancer and says that his dentist was his "angel".
Dr Sarah McMorrow from Loughrea noticed signs of the oral cancer during a routine check and urged him to seek treatment before it became inoperable.
Dr McMorrow noticed an area of discolouration in her patient's mouth.
"David had no symptoms. He didn't notice anything unusual," he said. "But when he came in for a check up, I noticed an area of discolouration.
"It was fairly far back -- a dark brown area. It was pretty small so it's not something he could have noticed himself."
David (60) immediately attended a specialist and was diagnosed with mouth cancer.
David, a language teacher, has now nominated Dr McMorrow for the Sensodyne Sensitive Dentist award after her care and treatment to rebuild his mouth after the operation.
"She was brilliant in my case. She certainly caught it before it became inoperable," he said.
"Sarah has been like an angel to me in very difficult times."
David is now studying Heritage Studies in Galway as a mature student and credits Dr McMorrow with aiding his recovery and return to health.
"She supported me and managed to rebuild my mouth," he said.
"I had eating and speech difficulties after the operation and she helped me emotionally as well.
"After the latest major operation on my mouth and jaw, Dr McMorrow again treated me painstakingly, to the point where I now have my speech back, I can eat and smile confidently."
The mouth can act as an early warning system for other serious health problems including heart disease, strokes and diabetes.
These conditions can be caused or made worse by poor dental health.
"It is the sixth most common cancer in men worldwide," Dr McMorrow said.
"It is as common as cervical and testicular cancer but it doesn't have the same awareness."
Dr McMorrow said that the big risk factors are tobacco, alcohol, poor diet and the human papilloma virus.
And she said that it is one of the most deadly cancers and the the five-year survival rate is as low as 50pc.
"Early detection is the key. It is very treatable, if it is caught early," she said. "It's something all dentists are trained to do, but I would recommend patients to ask their dentist to screen them."
Dr Conor McAlister, President of the Irish Dental Association said that the dentist's knowledge and vigilance led her to refer a suspicious lesion to a specialist for further investigation.
"This prompt referral greatly improved the patient's prognosis and quality of life," he said.