According to the American Cancer Society, oral cancer impacts 1 in every 60 men and 1 in every 140 women. The average survival rate for oral cancer is currently 5 years. Is mouth cancer on your radar? There’s an easy and effective way to get screened for oral cancer – at your routine dental visits. While you may assume your six-month dental appointments are just for cleaning your teeth and taking x-rays, it also includes a dedicated evaluation for oral cancer.
The life expectancy and fatalities associated with mouth cancer are not because this type of cancer is hard to treat. It is typically a result of a late diagnosis, or detecting oral cancer in its later or more advanced stages. This is why it becomes imperative to not only attend your routine dental visits for your annual screening but also learn to recognize the symptoms of oral cancer on your own.
“I feel fine. Nothing hurts in my mouth. Surely, I don’t have mouth cancer.” Not so fast. The abnormal cell growth of oral cancer starts painlessly below the surface. This can involve any tissues in your oral cavity, including your gums, lips, inner cheek, tongue and throat. The signs of oral cancer may be surprising or more inconspicuous than you think and include the following:
- Sores in the mouth or on the lip that don’t heal
- Pain in the mouth that won’t go away
- A lump on the tongue, lip, mouth or cheek
- A feeling that something is caught in your throat
- Sore throat
- Trouble swallowing, chewing or moving the jaw
- Numbness in the mouth or tongue
- Loosening of teeth
- Voice changes
- Weight loss
- Ear pain
Am I At Risk?
No one is exempt from developing oral cancer. However, if you have certain risk factors for this type of cancer, it may be best to get screened more often or monitor your mouth more often for changes. The following factors can increase your risk for mouth cancer:
- Heavy Smokers
- Heavy Drinkers
- Excess Body Weight
- Overexposure to UV Light (Tanning/ Sun Exposure)
- Exposure to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Men over the age of 45
- Genetic Factors
How Do I Prevent Oral Cancer?
Just because you fall into a high risk category or even have a few of the common symptoms, doesn’t mean you have oral cancer. The only way to know for sure is to see your dentist and have a biopsy taken of the suspicious tissues. In the meantime, it is also important that you take steps to prevent oral cancer. At Grateful Dental, we suggest the following steps to lower your mouth cancer risk:
Stop Smoking: Did you know that quitting your tobacco habit can reduce your risk of oral cancer by 35% in the first 4 years and by 80% within 20 years of smoking cessation. It is no surprise that tobacco exposes your mouth to harmful toxins, which also contain cancer-causing chemicals that linger in your mouth.
Drink in Moderation: Frequent or persistent alcohol intake can irritate your oral cells and put you at risk for cancer. By keeping your alcohol consumption in moderation, you can reduce your oral cancer risk by 2% every year that you don’t drink.
Eat Healthy: Never dismiss the value of a healthy, balanced and nutrient-rich diet. This is key to your energy as well as your ability to ward off cancer – including oral cancer!
Wear Sunscreen: While you won’t be putting sunscreen inside your mouth, your discipline to put a daily SPF on the outside of your lips and cheeks can also help prevent oral cancer. There are certain oral cancers that are known for starting with skin cancer on the face or lips!
Go to Your Routine Oral Checkups: Don’t look at your dentist as someone who only treats your teeth. At Grateful Dental, we consider ourselves responsible for the care of your entire oral cavity. Our routine exams can quickly and painlessly screen for oral cancer – which include checking for signs or abnormalities within your face, lymph nodes, lips, tongue, cheeks and gingiva. Your professional teeth cleanings can also reduce your risk for oral cancer by eliminating bacteria that can cause certain cancers from lying dormant in your mouth.
The next time you are tempted to skip your routine dental visit, think about the oral cancer screening you’ll get. This simple office visit can sparkle your smile and could save your life! Call Grateful Dental in Marietta today to book your annual oral cancer screening.