Your dentist is looking for cavities during regular check-ups, but has also been trained to screen for cancer at the same time. “It’s estimated that approximately 49,750 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer and cancers of the throat, tonsils and back of the tongue in 2017.”
You may feel like skipping dental appointments is acceptable, especially if you are taking great care of your teeth, but regular visits to your dentist can help you detect such cancers early.
It’s important to be aware of the following signs and symptoms and to see your dentist if they do not disappear after two weeks.
- Red or white patches
- Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
- A sore or irritation that doesn't go away
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your tongue or jaw
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth
Changing a few potentially harmful habits may help reduce your chances of developing cancer. Here are the risk factors.
Tobacco Use: We can’t stress this one enough. Smoking can cause oral cancer, among the other cancer risks. Chewing tobacco … puts the cheek, gums, and lips at risk. Pipe smokers are also at risk for cancer in their lips.
Drinking: According to the American Cancer Society, 7 out of 10 oral cancer patients are heavy drinkers. Heavy drinking is defined as two drinks or more a day for men and one drink a day for women. Paired with smoking, your chances of developing oral cancer rise dramatically.
Sun Exposure: People who have exterior jobs or who have prolonged sun exposure are at risk to developing lip cancer. UV protection is advised.
Poor Nutrition: Diets that are low in fruits and vegetables may increase your chances of developing oral cancer. Improve your diet for even another good reason.
We add that men are twice more likely to get oral cancer and most are age 55 or older. The ADA attributes this high-risk to higher rates of alcohol and drug use, and to the growing number of younger men being exposed to the human papilloma virus (HPV), so be safe.