The National Institute of Dental Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) revealed a continual increase in oral cancer and determined a five-year survival rate for US citizens affected by the disease. Subsequently, early discovery and immediate treatment increase the chances of successful oral cancer treatment for affected individuals.
Typically, your dentist carries out an oral cancer screening during your dental check-up appointments. However, it is also important for you to recognize the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer so that you can quickly report them to your dentist.
Oral cancer is a type of cancer that develops in any part of the oral cavity. This type of cancer is one of several types of cancers called the “head and neck” cancers. Oral cancer can occur in any of the following mouthparts:
- The roof of the mouth
- The inner lining of the cheeks
- Salivary glands
- The floor of the mouth
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Early detection of oral cancer is critical in overcoming this dental disease. It is advisable that you visit your dentist immediately for mouth cancer screening if you notice any of the following signs and symptoms or if these signs and symptoms persist for more than two weeks:
- A persistent sore throat, mouth pain, or hoarseness
- A mouth sore that does not heal
- Loose teeth with no apparent dental cause
- Problem with moving the jaw or tongue, or trouble speaking, swallowing or chewing
- Feeling pain in any of the ears without any loss of hearing
- Tenderness, pain, or numbness in any part of the mouth
- Painful swellings that make wearing dentures very uncomfortable
- Feeling of a lump in the throat
- White or red lesions in areas in the mouth or on the lips
- Sores, lumps, swellings, or thick patches anywhere within the mouth or throat
- Persistent bad breath
- Voice changes
- Weight loss
Causes of Oral Cancer
Oral cancers happen when cell mutation or rapid cell changes occur in the mouth. The mutation causes the mouth’s abnormal cells to continue to grow and divide while the healthy cells die. The cancerous cells accumulate in the mouth to form a tumor. Over time, these abnormal cells may spread all over the mouth or onto other areas of the neck and head. Sometimes, the abnormal cells may also spread to other parts of the body.
Oral cancers normally begin in the flat, thin cells known as squamous cells, that line inside of the mouth and the lips.
The exact cause of mouth cancer is still unclear. However, there are certain factors that can pose risks for mouth cancer.
Risk Factors of Oral Cancer
For instance, consumption of any kind of tobacco, such as smokeless tobacco, pipes, cigar, cigarettes, etc. can increase the risk of developing the disease. In fact, the Mouth Cancer Foundation reports that about 90% of patients with oral cancer have used tobacco products.
Also, heavy alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing mouth cancer. The National Institute of Dental Craniofacial Research reported that a patient who consumes both tobacco and alcohol stands a greater risk of developing the disease.
Aside from tobacco and alcohol consumption, eating habits and age can also influence the chance of developing mouth cancer. Reports show that most patients with oral cancers are over the age of 40. Diets deficient in vegetables and fruits can make it easier for you to contract the disease as well.
It is important to note that persistent exposure to sunlight can cause cancer on the lips. Furthermore, oral cancers have been found to be associated with human papillomavirus (HPV 16), a sexually transmitted disease.
Oral Cancer Screening and Treatment
Mouth cancer screening is a crucial, quick, and painless procedure to detect oral cancer in its early stages. According to The American Dental Association (ADA), when you go for your regular dental check-up, your dentist will check all the parts of your mouth and face for any signs or symptom of the disease. Your dentist may also palpate your jaw and neck area, and examine the top and floor of your mouth and tongue. Ensure that you go for mouth cancer screening every six months.
If the diagnosis is positive, your dentist will recommend immediate treatment. Sometimes, oral cancer treatment may require surgical processes that are usually followed by both radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
How to Prevention Oral Cancer
Though to date there is no sure way of preventing oral cancer, the risk of contracting the disease can be reduced. Here are ways of reducing the risk of developing the disease:
- Stop tobacco use. As previously mentioned, consuming tobacco products, whether smoked or chewed, can increase your chances of developing the disease. Therefore, a sure fire way to avoid negative consequences from tobacco is to avoid picking up the habit at all.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or if this is not feasible, drink moderately. Excessive drinking of alcohol can irritate the cells in your mouth, causing them to be susceptible to oral cancer.
- Avoid excessive sunlight exposure to your lips. Protect your lips from excessive sunlight as much as possible. If you have to remain under the sun for long periods of time, use a face shade or wear a broad-brimmed hat and apply an SPF sunscreen balm or cream on your lips if possible.
- Schedule regular visits to your dentist. Remember, oral cancer screening is part of your routine dental examination.
- Always follow good and proper oral hygiene practices daily to prevent oral cancer and other dental diseases, such as dental caries, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. Brush your teeth at least twice daily using fluoride-containing toothpaste. Floss at least twice a day and limit your consumption of sugary foods.
By following the above lifestyle practices, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing mouth cancer.
When to See Your Dentist?
Immediately – If you detect any persistent signs and symptoms that last for more than two weeks, quickly schedule an appointment with your dentist. Your dentist will then examine your dental condition to verify whether or not the symptoms are actually due to oral cancer.
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