Lights shine brightly at most dentists’ offices to check those pearly whites. However, Dr. John Bocchi also relies on another optical phenomenon for part of his routine exams.

He uses the Velscope - a hand-held scope to help visualize oral tissue abnormalities, including cancer and pre-cancer. It shines a safe, visible blue light into a patient’s mouth.

"It highlights the tissues. Any tissue that could be dangerous will absorb the light.” Bocchi said.

Abnormal tissue may present itself as a dark spot under the light.

"So it allows us to basically see what's going on beneath the tissues and pick up lesions earlier than you can with the naked eye." Bocchi added. 

If Dr. Bocchi suspects oral cancer, he will recommend a biopsy right away. "The whole key with oral cancer is early detection.”              

While tobacco-use and heavy drinking is linked to oral cancer, there’s another culprit.

"12,000 people every day in the United States are infected with HPV." Bocchi said. Fortunately, most bodies are able to fight off the virus without signs or symptoms, but he added that "there is a small percentage that turn into oral cancer."

Dr. Bocchi is not the only dentist diligent about screening patients.

Summit Smiles’ Dr. Roland Postlewait knows firsthand what it is like to fight - and fortunately beat - oral cancer. He spent two months at MD Anderson Cancer Center after physicians found a tumor at the base of his tongue. He was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma 10 yeas ago.

"I had 35 radiation treatments and I had two doses of chemo." Postlewait said.

The diagnosis serves as a reminder to look out for all his patients.

"You always think it'll happen to somebody else, but never to you." Postlewait added.

Dr. Bocchi hopes to help by spreading awareness that a quick, three-minute Velscope screening could potentially save lives.

"If you save one life - it makes your whole career worth it." Bocchi said.

Sierra Smiles and Summit Smiles will host a free oral cancer screening event on Saturday, April 28th from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at their offices. Prizes will be given to the first 100 people who get their screening.

Sierra Smiles: 5465 Kietzke Lane, Reno, NV 89511

Summit Smiles: 10595 Double R. Blvd, Reno, NV 89521

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