Did you know that April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month? With early detection, you can decrease your risk of oral cancer and increase your survival rate significantly.
What Is Oral Cancer?
Otherwise known as mouth cancer, oral cancer can develop anywhere on or in your mouth. It can occur on your lips, gums, or tongue, as well as on the inner lining of your cheeks or the roof or floor of your mouth.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, an estimated 54,000 Americans will be diagnosed with mouth cancer this year alone. And unfortunately, close to 10,000 people with oral cancer will die, translating to one person losing their life to it every hour, 24 hours per day. Further, of those 54,000 individuals newly diagnosed with mouth cancer, only a bit over half will survive for five more years. And the numbers are not getting better with time.
The mortality rate for oral cancer is higher than with other cancers. This can be alarming and scary to consider, especially if you have one or more of the risk factors listed below.
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
There are certain behaviors that you may participate in that can increase your risk of oral cancer. Those factors can include:
- Smoking or tobacco use of any kind
- Heavy consumption of alcohol
- Excessive sun exposure to your lips and face
- Human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted disease
- Weakened immune system
Signs and Symptoms
It is natural for you to wonder about the signs and symptoms of oral cancer, mainly if any of the previously mentioned risk factors apply to you. The most common oral cancer signs include:
- Loose teeth
- Mouth pain
- A sore on the lip or mouth that doesn’t heal
- A reddish or white patch inside of your mouth that doesn’t go away on its own
- A growth or lump on the inside of your mouth
- Ear pain
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
If you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, regardless of whether you have any of the mentioned risk factors, you should plan to see your doctor or dentist if the problem lasts more than two weeks. Choosing to see a dentist over a doctor shouldn’t be a concern. If the team at Allred Family Dentistry believes you should see a medical doctor, we will suggest that and provide recommendations for you when applicable. Though we can recognize the signs of oral cancer, it is in all of our best interests to ensure that you receive holistic care should you receive a cancer diagnosis.
Preventing Oral Cancer
The best thing you can do to prevent oral cancer is refrain from the activities that increase your risk factors. Though there is no proven way to stop the occurrence of mouth cancer, doctors and dentists agree that you can reduce your risk by doing the following.
- Refrain from tobacco use. If you are a tobacco user currently, take steps to quit, and know that your medical doctor can help. Many insurance companies also now offer programs designed to support you in quitting your tobacco use. And of course, if you are not a tobacco user today, don’t start in the future.
- If you want to drink alcohol, drink legally and in moderation. Excessive or chronic alcohol use can irritate your mouth cells, which makes them more vulnerable to mouth cancer. Safe alcohol use is considered one to two drinks per day, though this can vary based on your age and other health factors.
- When outside, apply sunscreen to your lips. With ongoing concerns about skin cancer, many of us lather up with sunscreen when we will be out and exposed to the sun for any lengthy period. However, most of us forget to use lip protection. A fragrance-free lip balm that has an SPF of 15 or higher, applied throughout the day, can help protect your lips.
- Don’t skimp out on your twice-a-year visit to the dentist. As part of your routine oral exam, we will inspect your entire mouth, looking for abnormalities that can indicate a presence of mouth cancer or the conditions for precancerous cells. Further, we make your overall oral health a priority and talk to you about mouth cancer symptoms and what you need to know to reduce your risks. When we catch it early, we increase your chances of recovery.
Contact Allred Family Dentistry and Take Steps to Reduce Your Risk
The Allred Family Dentistry team isn’t just here to remind you to brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily, and rinse with a fluoridated mouthwash. Though these things are essential for your oral health, we also want to talk to you about your medical well-being and any behaviors that you partake in that could have long-term negative consequences.
If you haven’t been to the dentist for a while or are concerned about oral cancer, now is a great time to request an appointment using our convenient online form. We’re here to help you maintain your smile and take steps to prevent oral cancer and other mouth-related illness and disease.