April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month: How Regular Dental Exams Help
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month in the United States. Each year, this campaign tries to raise awareness of the need for earlier oral cancer diagnosis and treatment. Oral cancer can affect any tissue in the mouth, including the gums, tongue, lips, or back of the throat. With early detection and treatment, outcomes are improved.
Many people are surprised to learn that oral cancer is usually painless. Many people develop lesions in their mouth but ignore them, assuming that they should be experiencing pain if it is cancer. This is one reason why it is so important to undergo regular cancer screenings by your dentist – if you can’t feel it and do not see it inside your mouth, it can rapidly spread before you notice a problem.
What are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
Any of the following could indicate oral cancer. If you have any of these symptoms, contact Red Oak Dental for an appointment for a full evaluation:
- A sore or lesion in your mouth or on your lips that isn’t healing
- A lump or mass on your lips or in your mouth
- A red or white patch of uneven skin on your gums, tongue, or the inside of the cheek
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Swelling of the jaw or cheeks
- Difficulty chewing or opening and closing the mouth
- Numb areas in the mouth
If oral cancer progresses and spreads to other areas, you may develop additional symptoms, including:
- Chronic sore throat
- Feeling like you lump in your throat
- Habitually clearing your throat
- Chronic earaches with an unknown cause
- Unintentional weight loss
Who is at Risk for Oral Cancer?
Men develop oral cancer two to three times as often as women, although the reasons behind this are not fully understood. There are risk factors that increase your odds of developing oral cancer. These include:
- Tobacco use is the strongest risk factor for oral cancer. If you smoke daily, chew tobacco, or rub snuff, your chance of developing cancer skyrockets.
- Excessive alcohol consumption is also a risk factor.
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infections
- Being over 60 years old, particularly if you are fair-skinned
- Excessive exposure to sunlight. UV rays can trigger oral cancer on the lips
- A weakened immune system
- Poor nutrition
- Poor dental hygiene
The Importance of Regular Dental Exams
Poor oral hygiene is a risk factor for oral cancer. Twice-yearly dental exams and professional teeth cleaning minimize the risk of developing oral cancer by keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
Your dentist also screens for oral cancer at each checkup. Because cancer lesions are often inside the mouth and don’t cause pain, a dentist is usually the first person to discover signs of oral cancer when it is more easily treatable.
During an oral cancer screening, we will examine the inside of the mouth and gums for sores, white patches, or red patches. We will also feel along the inside of the cheeks and under the tongue for lumps. If a suspicious area is found, an oral biopsy is performed so the cells can be viewed under a microscope or sent to a dental lab for evaluation.
Almost 50% of oral cancers are not diagnosed until they are advanced. Because late diagnosis increases the mortality rate, oral cancer has a five-year survival rate of around 60%, meaning 40% of people with oral cancer pass away before the five-year mark. However, the survival rate more than doubles for patients diagnosed in the early stages.
At Red Oak Dentistry, oral cancer screenings are a part of every dental exam. Seeing us twice yearly for a cleaning and checkup is your best defense against oral cancer. If you have any symptoms of oral cancer, please get in touch with our office as soon as possible, and we will schedule you for an evaluation.
Did You Know? Statistics About Oral Cancer:
If you smoke regularly and are a heavy alcohol drinker, your risk of developing oral cancer is almost 30 times higher than that of a non-smoker who does not drink alcohol.
HPV-related oral cancers respond more readily to chemotherapy and radiation than those linked to smoking.
Every year, over 54,000 individuals are diagnosed with oral cancer. Of those, 11,000 will die due to late diagnosis and treatment.
Our goal is to protect your oral health and prevent complications from undiagnosed cancer and other mouth, teeth, and gum diseases. The first step toward protecting your oral health is to call our office for an appointment.
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