You may have heard that April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. At Birmingham Smiles Dentistry, we think that’s a great thing because spreading awareness will save lives. The more you know, the better you can protect yourself and those you love. That’s why we want to continually educate you on potential oral health care challenges one can face and catch problems early when they’re most treatable.
When most people think of oral cancer, they picture an elderly man or woman with a long-term history of smoking. But did you realize that a young person who has never smoked could also develop oral cancer and is actually the fastest growing population of oral cancer diagnosis due to the prevalence of HPV? Below are some common questions and valuable information about oral cancer from the American Dental Association and the Oral Cancer Foundation.
Where Can Oral Cancer Appear?
The oral cavity includes your lips, cheek lining, gums, front part of your tongue, floor of the mouth beneath the tongue and the hard palate that makes up the roof of your mouth. The throat (pharynx) starts at the soft part of the roof of your mouth and continues back into your throat. It includes the back section of your tongue, as well as the base where the tongue attaches to the floor of your mouth.
What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
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.
- A sore or irritation that doesn’t go away
- Red or white patches
- Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
Some people complain of a sore throat, feeling like something is caught in their throat, numbness, hoarseness or a change in voice. If you have any of these symptoms, let us know, especially if you’ve had them for two weeks or more.
What are the Risk Factors for Oral Cancer?
Research has identified a number of factors that increase the risk of developing oral cancers. Men are twice as likely to get oral cancer than women. Also, smokers and excessive alcohol drinkers over the age of 50 are the most at-risk.
The human papilloma virus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted, has also been associated with throat cancers at the back of the mouth. HPV-positive head and neck cancers typically develop in the throat at the base of the tongue and in the folds of the tonsils making them difficult to detect. Although people with HPV-positive cancers have a lower risk of dying or having recurrence than those with HPV-negative cancers, early diagnosis is associated with the best outcomes. Regular dental check-ups that include an examination of the entire head and neck can be vital in detecting cancer early.
What Can I Do to Prevent Oral Cancer?
The most important thing is to be aware of your risk factors. Men are twice more likely to get oral cancer as they get older. If you smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol or have a poor diet, changing these habits can decrease the chances of developing oral cancer.
Certain strains of HPV can also put you at risk. The CDC recommends that 11-12-year-old boys and girls get two doses of HPV vaccine to prevent cervical and other less common genital cancers. It is possible that the HPV vaccine might also prevent head and neck cancers since the vaccine prevents an initial infection with HPV types but studies currently underway do not yet have sufficient data to say whether the HPV vaccine will prevent these cancers.
And if you have had oral cancer before, you may be more likely to develop it again, so keep up those regular visits.
The purpose of this post is not to scare you but to inform you. In fact, every patient we see at Birmingham Smiles Dentistry receives an oral cancer screening as a routine part of their comprehensive or recall exam when you come in for your dental appointments. All those times we ask you to open wide and stick out your tongue, you have been receiving an oral cancer screening and might not have even realized it!
If it has been a long time since you’ve visited the dentist, or if you have questions about scheduling an oral cancer screening please let us know at Birmingham Smiles Dentistry today. We take your health seriously and it is always our pleasure to serve you!