There’s one word no one ever wants to hear – cancer. However, getting all types of cancer screenings, including oral cancer, can save your life. Oral cancer can affect the lips, tongue, cheeks, sinuses, throat, or any other part of the mouth. If detected, early, the survival rates of oral cancer are very high. However, if it is not treated it can be life threatening.
Your dentist will always notice signs of oral cancer during routine appointments, but it’s up to you to keep an eye out between checkups. If you notice the following signs, you need to see your dentist right away:
- Numbness or pain anywhere in or around the mouth
- Red or white patches in the mouth
- Sores or swelling anywhere in or around the mouth
- Feeling like something is stuck in your throat
- Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue (including difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking)
- Pain in one or both of your ears
So who normally gets oral cancer? Although the exact cause of oral cancer is unclear, we do know some demographics about the people that typically contract it. Oral cancer is more common in men than women, specifically men over the age of 50. The use of tobacco products will greatly increase one’s chance of developing oral cancer. This includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes, dip, chewing tobacco, etc. Heavy alcohol use can also contribute to oral cancer, especially when combined with tobacco use. Family history, sun exposure, diet, and HPV are other factors that can contribute to your risk for oral cancer.
How will you know if you have oral cancer? It is vital to visit your dentist regularly for checkups. He or she will visually look for signs of oral cancer each time you come into the office. If your dentist sees any suspicious tissue, he or she will biopsy the area to test for cancer.
What do I do if I test positive for oral cancer? Like other cancers, oral cancer is treated by removing the cancerous tissue and using radiation and/or chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Prevention is always the best method. In addition to a healthy oral hygiene regime that includes brushing and flossing, you should also limit your oral cancer causing activities. Refrain from using tobacco products, and if you choose to consume alcohol, do it in moderation. Limit your exposure to the sun and wear sunblock as well as Chap Stick that offers protection when exposed to UV rays. Eat a balanced diet, go to the dentist regularly, and be on the lookout for early warning signs. Oral cancer is not completely preventable, but these simple lifestyle chances can significantly lower your chances for its development.