The C- word can be scary, no matter someone’s age or health history, and the statistics for oral cancer definitely fit in the ‘scary’ category.
“Oral cancer accounts for roughly 3% of all cancers diagnosed annually in the United States, or about 53,000 new cases each year. Oral cancer most often occurs in people over the age of 40 and affects more than twice as many men as women.”
At TrueCare Dentistry, we like to reassure our patients about their dental health and help them prevent problems, especially scary things like cancer.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and we’re joining dentists around the country in helping spread the word about oral cancer. Knowledge is power, and sometimes just knowing more about a disease like cancer of the mouth and esophagus can help you make decisions to prevent it for yourself and those you love.
Read on to find out more about what oral cancer is, how to recognize its symptoms, and when to seek help.
What Is Oral Cancer?
The American Cancer Society describes oral cancer as broader than just cancer in the mouth:
“Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers occur most often in the following sites: the tongue; tonsils and oropharynx; gums, floor of the mouth, and other parts of the mouth. The rest are found in the lips, the minor salivary glands (which often occur in the roof of the mouth), and other sites.”
Oral cancer tends to be fast growing but not easily detectable at first, so it’s important to pay attention to any changes in and around your mouth.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
In the earliest stages, oral cancer may just appear to be a sore inside the mouth or on the lips. If you find a mouth sore that takes longer than normal to heal or bleeds more than usual, it’s worth having your dentist take a look at it.
Other signs and symptoms the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research says you should be aware of include:
- White or red patches in your mouth.
- A sore throat or feeling that something’s caught in your throat.
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, moving your jaw, or moving your tongue.
- Numbness in your mouth or tongue
- Ear pain.
“Your dentist will not be able to diagnose cancer during an examination. Oral cancer can be diagnosed only with a biopsy, when a sample of tissue in the area is removed and examined under a microscope. However, your dentist can identify suspicious-looking areas or growths that may need further evaluation.”
What Can You Do To Prevent Oral Cancer?
Even though the statistics for oral cancer can seem scary, we have good news — you can make changes to decrease your risk for this type of cancer.
Those at highest risk for oral cancers are:
- Those who’ve often used tobacco in some form whether that’s chewing it or smoking it — in cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or other forms.
- People who consume a lot of alcohol.
- Those who combine the use of tobacco and alcohol.
- Anyone who’s been infected with the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV).
- Those who’ve had consistent exposure to the sun over time.
We can use the risk factors to guide our steps to prevent oral cancers. Reduce your risk for the disease when you:
- Stop smoking or chewing tobacco.
We know that 80% of oral cancer patients use tobacco. To prevent the disease, then, it’s important for tobacco users not to wait another day to quit smoking or chewing. The risk is high and gets higher every day you continue to use. For your own health and for the sake of your family, stop using tobacco today.
- Limit alcohol use.
It’s also extremely important for those who drink alcohol to do so in moderation. As with excessive tobacco use, heavy drinking increases health risks. If you’re someone who’s not sure whether you consume too much alcohol, take some time to reflect and seek input from those you trust. Take a step back if you discover you’re drinking too much too often.
- Protect your lips from overexposure to the sun.
The Mayo Clinic suggests,“Protect the skin on your lips from the sun by staying in the shade when possible. Wear a broad-brimmed hat that effectively shades your entire face, including your mouth. Apply a sunscreen lip product as part of your routine sun protection regimen.”
- Visit your dentist regularly.
A regular dental checkup is one of the best ways to prevent health issues in your mouth. Dentists are trained to recognize early signs of trouble and when you’re keeping your regular checkups, it’s more likely that anything unusual will be found in its earliest stages.
Oral Cancer Awareness
Help us share awareness about oral cancer with your friends and family, especially during Oral Cancer Awareness Month.
“Each April, most of the nation’s top dental associations join together with the Oral Cancer Foundation to raise awareness for oral and oropharyngeal cancers. Many dental professionals around the country open their offices to do free screenings to the public during this month each year as well. This is an important reminder to the public that when these cancers are detected and treated early, mortality and treatment related health problems are reduced.”
If you have questions about a sore or suspicious change you’ve recently seen in your mouth, give TrueCare Dentistry a call to set up a consultation. We can assess your oral health and provide treatment in our offices or refer you out, if necessary.
Exceptional Is Not Uncommon
At TrueCare Dentistry, you will experience exceptional dental care that is focused on maximum patient comfort. We offer the best chair-side manner from check-in to check-out. Contact us for an appointment or to learn more: 919.859.1330