Are You at Risk for Oral Cancer

Learn More About How Mouth Cancer Can Affect Your Dental Health

Are your dental habits leading you down the path towards mouth cancer? Discover the signs, symptoms, and risks associated with oral disease.

Did you know that your dentist can screen for cancer? Cancer of the mouth is one of the most common forms of the disease, and adults over 20 should get tested regularly! The Oral Cancer Foundation reported approximately 49,750 cases of mouth cancer in the United States last year. Oral cancer can wreak havoc on both your dental and general health?especially if you are a smoker! Take the time to learn the warning signs of oral diseases, get tested regularly, and avoid harmful cigarettes.

What is Oral Cancer?

Cancer, simply put, is an abnormal growth of malignant cells. Throughout our lives, our cells are always splitting and regrowing, though typically in a controlled fashion. However, whenever that process is altered, it causes the cells to grow in a rapid manner, clustering to form what is known as a tumor. Oral cancer can happen anywhere on or around the mouth, including on your lips, gums, cheeks, and soft palate tissues. It often appears in the form of a lesion or sore, and if left untreated, the malignant cells can reach to other parts of your body, and the result can be life-threatening.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

The good news is that, when detected early, oral cancer has an 80-90% survival rate.

So, how can you tell if you are developing signs of cancer and not another oral disease, such as gingivitis? While some symptoms, such as pain, bleeding, or swelling can be present in both, other indications that you may have oral cancer include:

  • Sores that develop near or in the mouth that bleed persistently and do not heal
  • Swollen areas, such as lumps, bumps, or thickenings
  • Developing abnormal white or red patches on the skin or inside the mouth
  • Loose teeth or dentures
  • Pain in the tongue, jaw, or throat
  • Stiffness, numbness, loss of feeling, or significant tenderness in the face, jaw, or inside the mouth (which may cause difficulty breathing, eating, or talking)
  • Ear pain
  • Soreness or swelling in the back of the throat
  • Significant, unexplained weight loss

Who is at Risk?

Studies have shown that oral cancer is typically found more often in men than women. Men over the age of 50, specifically, should take extra care to take preventative measures against the disease. However, the most significant correlation found is with oral cancer patients and tobacco. The use of tobacco?whether smoked or chewed?can significantly increase your chances of getting oral cancer. Around 90% of mouth cancer patients have also reported tobacco use.

Tobacco Use and Oral Cancer

All types of tobacco, including those found in cigars, cigarettes, or pipes, come from tobacco leaves; and, cigarette companies use a myriad of additives to help make the experience even more “enjoyable” for users. The truth is, tobacco smoke is made up of over 7,000 chemicals…and at least 70 of them are known carcinogens (aka, cancer-causing). Not only can they cause diseases in your mouth, lungs, or heart, but also cigarettes can ultimately be fatal. At least 30% of all deaths in the United States are attributed to complications from smoking, and there is no safe way to consume tobacco.

However, even non-smokers can develop cancerous tissue in their mouth, so it helps to know what else can increase your risk of oral cancer. Other causes of oral cavity cancer include:

  • Excessive alcohol use. In addition to being detrimental to your health, drinking lots of alcohol can also erode the natural coating on your teeth, making you more susceptible to other infections.
  • Exposure to the sun. As with other areas of your body, applying sunscreen to your lips and around your mouth can reduce your risk of melanoma or of other cancers.
  • Certain diseases, like HPV. Known as the human papillomavirus, HPV is a sexually-transmitted disease. So, practicing safe sex and getting regularly tested can help to significantly reduce this hazard.

Other factors, such as a family history of cancer or a weakened immune system may also put you at higher risk. Patients with these factors should be especially vigilant about taking preventative measures.

Protect Yourself, and Reduce Your Chances

The most proactive way to reduce your chance of infections, diseases, or cancer is by taking preventative measures. The best place to start is by quitting smoking! If you have never smoked or chewed tobacco?don’t start! Even using tobacco once can negatively impact your health, including the integrity of your teeth and gums. Other ways you can lessen your risk of developing cancer is by eating healthy, by properly brushing and flossing your teeth, and by visiting your dentist on a regular basis! At Williams Dental & Orthodontics, we offer general services, including cleanings and oral cancer screenings. If you or a family member needs to schedule a dental consultation in Skiatook, OK, call us today at (918) 396-3711!