According to the American Cancer Society’s latest statistics, over 50,000 (54,010 to be exact) new cases of oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer were reported in the last year; and unfortunately, 10,850 people died from their condition. Oral cancer is something your Raleigh dentist cares passionately about, and since April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, we can’t let this month come to an end without discussing healthy habits to prevent oral cancer. Read on to learn more about oral cancer.
Where does Oral Cancer come from?
Oral cancer can develop without any known cause, which is why it’s so important to visit your Raleigh dentist for regular cleanings and cancer screenings. That said, any sort of cancer is a mutation in DNA. As such, mouth or oral cancer occurs when cells on the lip, gums or mouth develop mutations in their DNA. These mutations then allow cancer cells to accumulate abnormal cancel cells that divide and grow, which leads to tumor formation and spreads to other areas of the head, neck and body.
While we don’t know why these mutations occur, there are several known risk factors for oral cancer, including:
- Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, etc.
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Weakened immune system
- Excessive sun exposure to your lips
- Contracting a sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV)
What are the Signs or Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
If you are coming in for regular cleanings (we typically recommend that our patients come in every 6 months at a minimum), you’ll notice that your Raleigh dentist will come in to check on you at the end of your appointment. Believe it or not, she is not just checking in on the dental cleaning efforts of your hygienist. She is also examining your mouth for any oral cancer symptoms. These include:
- Bleeding sores or sores that don’t seem to heal
- Poorly fitting dentures
- Loose adult teeth
- Lumps, growth or thickening of the lining of the mouth
- Pain in your tongue
- Pain when chewing or swallowing
- Stiffness or pain in your jaw
- Unexplained sore throat
If we ever find something irregular or suspicious, your Raleigh dentist will recommend a biopsy to check for cancer cells.
What can You do to Prevent Oral Cancer?
As we mentioned above, sometimes oral cancer develops without any known cause. You can avoid all the risks and it can still happen. However, there are certainly some things that you can do to reduce the risk. These include:
- Avoid using any form of tobacco (this will also prevent lung cancer).
- Also avoid second-hand cigarette smoke.
- Drink alcohol in moderation if you must drink.
- Use UV-blocking lip balm in addition to sunscreen on your body.
- Maintain a healthy weight by eating healthy foods and exercising on a regular basis.
- Avoid unprotected sex to prevent the transmission of HPV (there is also a vaccine available).
- Regularly inspect your mouth and lips for any abnormalities. Make sure that you report these to your dentist.
- If you have dentures, make sure your dentures fit well.
- Visit your Raleigh dentist regularly for early identification and treatment.
Oral Cancer is Treatable
The good news is that when caught early, oral cancer is very treatable. However, left untreated, oral cancer can lead to serious complications, including reconstructive facial surgery or death. Be sure you pay attention to your oral health and let us know if you see anything out of the usual. Furthermore, if you’re due for a cleaning or check-up, be sure to call Dr. Katherine E. Garrett and schedule an appointment as soon as possible. We happily welcome new patients and look forward to serving you.