April 1 is known as April Fools Day, but today we want to talk about something pretty serious. April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s something we believe our patients should know more about.
Prevention is the best approach to maintain your oral health. That’s true for tooth decay. That’s true for gum disease.
And it’s especially true for oral cancer. As much as our team at Atlanta West Dentistry dislikes decay and gum disease, it pales in comparison to our dislike for oral cancer.
If you live in or near Marietta, GA, our dentists encourage you to visit us for routine cleanings and examinations a couple times every year. The examination is just as important as the cleaning, and oral cancer is one of the reasons why.
Learn The Signs
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, more than 42,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer annually in the United States. That’s 115 people every day.
Oral cancer also has a higher fatality rate than many other forms of cancer. The foundation reports that 43 percent of people who have oral cancer die within five years.
One of the reasons for the high mortality rate is that early detection is not as common as it should be. As with other forms of cancer, your odds of surviving oral cancer increase the earlier you detect it.
With that in mind, here are the symptoms to watch for:
- Discoloration of soft tissues of your mouth
This discoloration may be red, white, or both.
- Having a sore in your mouth for 14 days or more
- Prolonged hoarseness
Those are the early warning signs, according to the foundation. If you experience any of them, please get checked as soon as possible.
That’s doubly important if you experience the advanced signs of oral cancer, including:
- Numbness in your mouth
- Trouble moving your jaw or tongue, or trouble swallowing
- Ear pain on one side
- A feeling like you have something stuck in your throat
- A lump in the mouth or neck
- A sore under your dentures that does not heal even after an adjustment
We would prefer that none of our patients have to fight to survive oral cancer. We think it would be much better if none of our patients are ever diagnosed with the disease.
With that in mind, here are factors that can decrease your risk of developing oral cancer.
► Avoid Tobacco
We’ve mentioned multiple times in previous blogs that tobacco has no benefits to your oral health. It is far and away the leading cause of oral cancer in the United States.
One study even found that eight in 10 patients who are diagnosed with oral cancer are tobacco users.
Another study compared women who used smokeless tobacco with women who did not use tobacco. The researchers found that the smokeless tobacco users were 14 times more likely to develop oral cancer. That risk increased to 50 times among long-term (25 years or more) smokeless tobacco users.
► Avoid Or Limit Alcohol Intake
Alcohol abuse, which was defined as consuming 21 or more drinks in a week, was second to tobacco use as a cause of oral cancer. You are more likely to be missing nutrients if you drink lots of alcohol, and you also increase your risk of having a dehydrated mouth.
If you use alcohol and tobacco, you are compounding your risks. The dry mouth you experience from alcohol use makes your soft tissues more vulnerable to the carcinogens found in tobacco products.
► Protect Your Lips
We know many people like to have a tan, but it’s not worth your life. If you are going to be outside for extended periods of time, you should wear sunscreen, and that includes wearing a sunblock of SPF 30 or higher on your lips.
► Eat Healthy
There’s a lot of reasons to eat fruits and vegetables every day. Now you have another one. Fruits and vegetables contain many of the nutrients we need to maintain our oral health.
► Get Vaccinated (If You Can)
HPV16 has been linked to both cervical and oral cancers, and 80 percent of people in the United States will be exposed to the human papillomavirus during their lives. For 99 out of 100 people who get it, our bodies will fight it without us ever knowing that we had it.
But for the other 1 percent, HPV16 can lead to the cancers mentioned above. This is why the National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends people should be vaccinated before they are sexually active. Once you have been exposed to the virus, the vaccine is not effective.
Visit Us For Routine Examinations
We want our patients in and around Marietta, GA, to visit our dentists for routine care a couple time each year. During your visit, we will be looking for any signs and symptoms of oral cancer.