There aren’t many things scarier for anyone to hear than “You have cancer.”
It’s not something you expect to hear at a dentist’s office, but routine dental visits could be part of your defense against oral cancer.
Since April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, our team at 1st In Smiles wanted to take a moment to talk about the symptoms of this disease. We can’t diagnose oral cancer, but we may be able to recognize the symptoms so you can get tested as soon as you can.
As you’ll soon see, early diagnosis makes a big difference in the success of treatments for this kind of cancer.
Early Detection & Survival
The Oral Cancer Foundation reports that more than 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. In the United States, one person dies of oral cancer every hour.
When oral cancer is detected early, between 80 and 90 percent of patients survive this ordeal. When oral cancer is detected late, the survival rate drops to 57 percent.
And unfortunately, most oral cancer is detected in the latter stages of the disease.
This makes it that much more important for you to schedule routine dental exams. While you are seated in one of our chairs, we’ll be looking for gum disease and tooth decay.
But we’ll also be looking for anything that appears out of the ordinary. If we see anything suspicious, we will be sure to let you know so you can get tested. Even if it turns out to be nothing (which is always our hope), it’s better to be safe than sorry anytime there is a possibility that something could be cancer.
What You Should Look For
In between your dental visits, you would do well to take notice of any changes in your mouth and neck as well.
Many people get sores in their mouth from time to time. If your sore doesn’t seem to be healing and/or bleed easily, then you may want to have it checked.
Likewise, talk to your doctor if you notice any changes in the color of the soft tissues in your mouth. These could be patches of tissue that appear redder than normal, white, or a combination of both.
Another symptom of oral cancer is a sore throat that won’t see to go away or a constant feeling of hoarseness.
And if you notice lumps in the soft tissue of your mouth or your neck, make an appointment with your doctor. Again, it’s better to get tested early.
Improving Your Odds
You can’t completely eliminate any chance that you will develop oral cancer, but you can’t take steps that will dramatically reduce your risk of having this disease.
First and foremost, stay away from tobacco. As dental professionals, we could go on about how tobacco use makes you more likely to have gum disease, to get cavities, and to lose teeth. It also makes you much more likely to have oral cancer.
Health officials have identified more than 70 cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco products. This includes, but certainly is not limited to, cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco products actually pose a greater risk for some forms of cancer.
If you are a tobacco user, having support is one of the most important things when you are trying to quit. A good place to get help is by calling 800-YES-QUIT or visit yesquit.org.
Next to tobacco, too much alcohol consumption can increase your risk of oral cancer as well. Part of the problem with alcohol is that it can cause your mouth to become dehydrated. This also makes it particularly risky to drink and use tobacco at the same time. When your mouth is dry, your soft tissues can quickly absorb the chemicals in tobacco products.
Make Your Next Appointment Soon
We hope no one reading this ever develops oral cancer. We also know how valuable early detection can be.