Oral cancer – a kind of head and neck cancer – is the overarching term for mouth and teeth cancer that can start in any area of the oral cavity, including the lips, throat, salivary glands, tongue, the floor of the mouth, and more. Although the survival rate for those diagnosed with mouth and teeth cancer is relatively high (over half in the U.S.), it is important to catch the symptoms and start treatment early on to give the patient the highest chance for success. Dentists look for early signs of mouth cancer during your semi-annual checkups by doing oral cancer screenings, however, it is important that patients know the warning signs and symptoms as well so they can bring them to their dentist’s attention as soon as possible.
Symptoms and signs of oral cancer
As previously mentioned, during routine appointments your Dentist should perform a quick and painless examination for oral cancer. This simple screening can catch the signs of mouth cancer in the early stages and allow for proper treatment to commence. During these exams, dentists also check your face, neck, and lips visually to ensure there are no signs of anything spreading past your mouth. It is critical to note that in the early stages, most common symptoms and signs of mouth cancer are painless and often hard to identify if you don’t know what to look for. If any of the following symptoms continue for more than two weeks, you will want to contact your dentist immediately:
- Lingering sore throat
- Tender, numb, or painful areas anywhere in your mouth
- Problems moving your tongue or jaw
- Issues chewing, speaking, or swallowing
- The feeling that something is stuck in your throat
- White or red patch on your lips or mouth
- Loose teeth for no apparent dental reason
- Uncomfortable fitting of dentures or retainers due to swelling
- Any lump, swelling, or sore in the mouth or throat
- Consistent pain in the ears or neck
Having these symptoms does not guarantee you have mouth cancer, but it never hurts to check with your dentist. Since catching the early signs of mouth cancer is a huge factor in beating the disease, please contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
What increases the risk of oral cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, there is not a clear explanation as to what causes oral cancer. However, there is knowledge of what can increase one’s risk of mouth cancer which includes several lifestyle factors. Age can play a role in the development of oral cancer as it occurs mostly in those over 40 years old, and the risk doubles for men after that age. This does not mean that you are in the clear if you are under 40 years old, the risk is just lower. Diet is another element that has shown to impact the risks of mouth and teeth cancer. People with a diet high in red meat and low in fruits and vegetables have a higher risk of contracting the disease than those with a well-balanced diet. The Mouth Cancer Foundation says that 90% of patients with oral cancer consume tobacco. It is known that tobacco of any kind, like cigars, pipes, cigarettes and even smokeless tobacco can be detrimental to one’s health, but it is especially prevalent in the development of mouth cancer. Alcohol consumption is another risk factor that increases your chances of oral cancer and the risk is heightened when consumed in conjunction with tobacco use. Two other elements that can increase your risk are excess sun exposure and contracting the human papillomavirus, which is a sexually transmitted infection.
There are simple ways to take action in your life that will impact your future. By partaking in prevention methods, you can drastically lower your risk of contracting oral cancer. Keeping up with your oral hygiene and making critical changes to your lifestyle is important for not only your oral health but overall health.
- By brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily you will limit your chances of gum disease and other dental conditions.
- Make it a priority to visit your dentist every 6 months so they can perform a routine checkup and catch the early signs of mouth cancer.
- Take a look at your diet and be real with yourself: are you eating enough fruits and veggies?
- It can be hard but ditch the tobacco and limit your alcohol consumption.
- Be aware of your exposure to the sun; apply SPF on your lips and wear a wide-brimmed hat.
- Talk to your doctor about the human papillomavirus (HPV 16).
Being aware of what risks can increase the likelihood of developing oral cancer, and the ability to identify the signs of mouth cancer will allow you to take charge of your oral health. It can be difficult to make changes to a lifestyle, but by looking at the big picture and seeing your health on the line you will realize what is important. Having this knowledge makes it easier to be proactive which can save you from serious problems in the future.
Fortson Dentistry offers free oral cancer screenings as a part of each patient exam. Call one of our three locations to see a dentist and keep your mouth and teeth in healthy condition.
Dr. Cory Fortson, DDS began his educational journey by earning a BS in Nutritional Science from Michigan State University. He is a 2014 graduate of The University of Detroit Dental School and a third generation dentist who is proud to provide excellent dental care to the Lathrup Village community.
With his dedication to excellence and continued growth, Dr. Fortson has completed extensive continuing education courses in orthodontics (braces and Invisalign), endodontics (root canal therapy), and cosmetic dentistry. He always strives to create a comfortable atmosphere for his patients while restoring their smiles. Dr. Fortson’s goal is to take the stress out of dental visits by meeting all his patients’ dental needs while offering the most up to date painless treatment options to deliver a beautiful smile.