Did you know that April is Oral Cancer Awareness month? It is, and because we’re committed to our patients’ oral care and overall well-being, we’d like to use this as an opportunity to spread the word about oral cancer prevention. Oral cancer is the 6th most common cancer in men, and the 14th most common in women. Despite the statistics, there are lifestyle changes you can make to minimize your risk of developing the disease.
What Is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer sometimes appears as a sore or growth on the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, sinuses, or throat. If left untreated, it can be life-threatening. There are a range of symptoms that may indicate oral cancer, including:
- Sores, lumps, or thick patches in or around the mouth or throat
- Red or white lesions on the lips or mouth
- Uncomfortable swelling in the mouth
- Numbness, pain, or tenderness in the mouth, including the tongue
- Ear pain without hearing loss
- Problems chewing, swallowing, or speaking
- Loose or shifting teeth with no apparent dental cause
- Persistent sore throat or hoarseness
If you experience any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, contact your dentist immediately. The earlier oral cancer is detected, the better the chances of a successful outcome.
Who Gets Oral Cancer?
While anyone can develop oral cancer, most cases are linked to tobacco and heavy alcohol use. Additionally, people are at greater risk for this disease if they’re over the age of 40, have experienced excessive sun exposure, are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), or eat a diet that is low in fruits and vegetables.
How Is Oral Cancer Detected?
Each time you come in for a dental exam, we’ll screen you for oral cancer. During that screening, we examine your cheeks, gums, neck, face, and jaw for any suspect spots or abnormalities. If oral cancer is suspected, we’ll immediately refer you to a physician who can perform a biopsy to confirm the presence of cancerous cells. Additionally, we encourage our patients to have a panoramic x-ray taken every 3 to 5 years. This type of x-ray can show hidden cancers underneath the surfaces in your mouth.
Unfortunately, there is no proven way to prevent oral cancer. However, there are lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing the disease:
- If you smoke or use chewing tobacco, quit. Tobacco exposes the mouth to dangerous, cancer-causing chemicals.
- Limit your alcohol intake. Chronic excessive alcohol use irritates the cells in the mouth, making them more vulnerable to cancer.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. The vitamins and antioxidants they contain can reduce your risk.
- Use sunscreen on your lips, wear a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors, and stick to the shade when possible.
- Visit your dentist every 6 months for a checkup! Your dentist is one of the only health care professionals who screens for oral cancer, making regular dental appointments even more important.