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I’m At Risk for Oral Cancer — What Should I Do?

Like most cancers, you have a good chance of treating oral cancer when it’s caught early, but it’s even better to take steps to prevent the cancer from developing in the first place. Here are the best ways to prevent oral cancer.

Oral cancers affect women and men, but you’re especially vulnerable if you use tobacco products or you’re a heavy drinker. At Chester Family Dentistry, our expert providers are always on the lookout for signs of cancer, visually examining your mouth every time you come in for a checkup.

Stop Using Tobacco Products

Tobacco is the single biggest risk factor for oral cancer. About 80% of patients who are diagnosed with oral cancer use some form of tobacco.

Your chance of cancer increases whether you smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco, or use snuff. The more tobacco you use and the longer you use it, the higher your chance of oral cancer.

Tobacco smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes leads to cancer anywhere in your mouth or throat. Oral tobacco products such as snuff, chew, or dissolvable tobacco are associated with causing cancers of your cheeks, gums, and on the inner surface of your lips. They also contribute to gum disease and tooth loss.

As the National Cancer Institute says, “There is no safe level of tobacco use.” We understand that it’s a challenge to kick a tobacco habit, so don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Consume Alcohol in Moderation

After tobacco, heavy alcohol use is the next biggest risk factor for developing mouth and throat cancers. Compared to non-drinkers, moderate drinkers have nearly a twofold higher risk and heavy drinkers have a fivefold higher risk. If you use tobacco and drink heavily, your risk of oral cancer may be 100% higher compared to people who don’t smoke or drink.

Get Regular Dental Checkups

You already know that getting a dental checkup every six months is important for keeping your teeth and gums healthy. It’s also the best way to catch oral cancer at an early stage.

Every time you get a checkup, we examine the tissues in your mouth for signs of cancer. We consider this to be a routine part of dental care. If we find a problem, such as a lesion, we remove it and send tissue to the lab for a diagnosis.

Routinely Check For Signs of Oral Cancer

A noncancerous lesion often appears in your mouth before it turns cancerous. If you catch the sore early, oral cancer is easier to treat. After the sore turns cancerous, however, the cancer can spread quickly.

Between your dental checkups, look inside your mouth and be aware of symptoms such as:

  • A sore in your mouth that doesn’t heal
  • Pain or numbness that doesn’t go away
  • Hoarseness or change in your voice
  • Lumpy, thickened, or rough spots anywhere in your mouth
  • White or red patches on your tongue, gums, or cheek lining
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your tongue

If these symptoms don’t improve in two to three weeks, call us to schedule a full mouth exam and cancer screening.

Brush and Floss Like Your Life Depends On It

Brushing and flossing twice daily may help save your life. Studies suggest that the health of your mouth affects your risk for oral cancers. Additionally, if you’re diagnosed with mouth cancer, your outcome may be better when you practice good oral hygiene.

Limit Exposure to Sunlight

Ultraviolet light increases your chance of developing lip cancer. When you’re out in the sun, wear a wide-brimmed hat and use a lip balm that provides sun protection.

Guard Against HPV Infections

The human papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted infection that’s well known for causing cervical cancer. But you may not know that it also causes mouth cancer.

About 70% of cancers in the throat and at the base of the tongue are related to HPV. The HPV vaccination can help lower your risk of cancer, but it must be administered between the ages of 9 and 26 to be effective.

If you have any questions about oral cancer or you’d like to schedule an appointment, use the online booking form or call Chester Family Dentistry.