We often discuss the importance of visiting our office regularly for good oral health. But did you know visiting your dentist can also help you screen for cancer? Although National Mouth Cancer Action Month was last month, cancer doesn’t occur once a year. It’s important to be cancer-aware all year long.
By being cancer-aware, we can allay our fears and educate ourselves about early warning signs.
A little knowledge can give you a lot of power.
Learn the Risk Factors for Mouth Cancer
Over half of mouth or oral cancers appear on the tongue and tonsils. Additionally, other common areas include tumors on the lips, salivary glands, gums and inside of the cheeks. Though 25% of cases have no significant risk factor, it’s twice as likely to occur in men than in women. Furthermore, 78% of cases occur in people over the age of 55.
There are risk factors that increase one’s chances of developing mouth cancer. They include:
- Tobacco use
- Excessive sun exposure to the lips
- A weakened immune system
- Heavy alcohol use
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
How to Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Mouth Cancer
When diagnosed early, the chances of surviving mouth cancer are nine out of 10. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of mouth cancer include the following:
- A sore on the lip or mouth that doesn’t heal
- Loose teeth
- Mouth pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Painful swallowing
- A reddish or white patch on the inside of the mouth
- A growth or lump inside the mouth
- Ear pain
How to Do a Self-Exam
Once you know the signs, symptoms and risk factors, you can do a self-exam for mouth cancer anytime. You only need a mirror, a good light source and clean fingers.
To begin, take a good look at your face. Turn your head side to side and ensure you don’t see any lumps. Feel around your neck for lumps as well. Then, using your fingers, check the inside of your upper and lower lips and inside your cheeks. You’re looking for bumps or sores.
After that, feel around your gums for the same things. Now, stick out your tongue and check the top and bottom. Look for any swelling or changes in color. While your tongue is out and pointed up, feel around the floor of your mouth under the tongue. Again, look for lumps.
Now, the last step may be more difficult. Tilt your head back while also using a hand-held mirror to look at the roof of your mouth. Again, look for lumps or any changes in color. Also use your fingers to also feel around.
Talk to Your Dentist About Your Oral Health
If you have risk factors or notice abnormalities related to your oral health, contact your dentist to schedule a visit. Awareness and early detection are often key to successfully treating cancer and other serious diseases.
To schedule your next visit, complete our contact form or call our office at 815-886-0875.