Cancer: The word strikes fear into the hearts of many, and with good reason. Most people know someone who has been affected by this insidious group of diseases. One type of cancer that can be detected by your dentist is oral cancer. This can include cancer of the face, neck, sinuses, throat, gums, lips, or cheeks. You might not realize it, but a cancer screening is performed every time you see your dentist. It’s important to be aware of what causes oral cancer, as well as the symptoms and what you can do to prevent it.
Causes of Oral Cancer
One common cause of oral cancer is tobacco. Whether you smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco, it can raise your risk of developing oral cancer. Heavy drinkers may also be at an increased risk. People with cancer in their family or personal histories also might be more likely than others to develop this type of cancer. Men are more prone than women, and people over the age of 50 are more likely to get it than younger people. With that being said, cancer does not discriminate, so if you notice any worrisome symptoms, see your dentist or doctor promptly, even if you have no risk factors.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
The symptoms of oral cancer can differ depending on where exactly the cancer is located. Commonly, symptoms will include a rough or thickened part of the mouth, a lump, or a red or white patch. Your dentist will be looking for these signs during your regular checkups. You might experience trouble swallowing or your teeth might not fit together the way they once did. You also might have pain in or around your mouth, ear, or other parts of your face. If you have a sore that doesn’t heal within two weeks, you should make an appointment for it to be evaluated.
Prevention and Treatment
The best way to prevent oral cancer is to avoid smoking and heavy drinking. Oral cancer is more treatable when it’s caught early, before it has the chance to spread. So watching for symptoms and seeing your dentist twice per year can prevent more advanced disease that is harder to treat. If your dentist does suspect cancer, he or she will refer you to a specialist to have it evaluated. From there, a positive diagnosis would lead to treatments that might include chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation.
It’s important to keep on top of your health by making good choices when possible and by seeing your dentist regularly. If you are due for a checkup, please call the office to schedule one.