Cancer comes in many different types of forms, but one type—mouth cancer—is often one that people don’t think about until they get a diagnosis. However, someone in the United States dies every hour of every day from mouth cancer. This is a rising concern, as you can catch mouth cancer in its early stages and prevent its progression with the right treatment. This year, make the decision to get frequent comprehensive dental exams and dental cleanings so you never have to worry that cancer of the mouth is forming without you knowing.
Mouth Cancer 101
Did you know that there are over 100 different types of cancers that people can get? It can be hard to keep track of all of them and luckily, many won’t get cancer during their life. However, just about every person knows someone with cancer. Mouth cancer is one that is not as common, but it still affects thousands each year. Take a look at the statistics:
- Approximately 49,750 people were diagnosed with some form of cancer of the throat or mouth in 2017. These numbers stay consistent from year to year.
- On average, 145 new people will be diagnosed with mouth cancer each year. That is up from the average of 132 people a day in previous years.
- Those who use tobacco products or drink alcohol are at a much higher risk for developing cancer in the gums and soft tissues of the mouth than those who don’t.
- If found early, patients have an 80-90% chance of survival, which is much higher than many other types of cancer.
- If caught in the later stages, there is only a 43% survival rate.
- Oral cancer can be detected during an oral cancer screening at a dental office, which only takes a minute or two of your time. However, The Oral Cancer Foundation reports that less than 15% of patients that regularly visit the dentist are having an oral cancer screening. Always ask for this screening if it is not provided at every appointment!
What Are the Warning Signs?
There are warning signs to be aware of if you want to know if oral cancer is present in your mouth or not. First, you want to make sure you are following all of the recommended oral health guidelines to avoid the possibility of mouth cancer. Those include:
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes at a time, as recommended by the American Dental Association.
- Flossing 1-2 times a day to get the 40% of tooth surfaces that brushing can miss.
- Using fluoride products to provide a protection and shield for the teeth.
- Limiting any consumption of tobacco, alcohol, acidic foods and drinks, and anything that can damage the teeth or gums.
- Visiting the dentist for comprehensive exams and dental cleanings at least twice a year, as recommended by the ADA.
Causes, Risks and More
You should always have frequent screenings if you use tobacco or alcohol products and have not quit them. Tobacco is bad for the teeth and gums already, as material sets into the teeth, staining them rather quickly. Because there are so many acidic chemicals or substances in tobacco products that are not actually edible, they deteriorate the teeth. This is why smokers or those who chew tobacco get cavities, tooth loss and gum disease issues so frequently. Tobacco will also damage the nerves of the gums and other soft tissues of the mouth. Those nerves either stop working or die.
Alcohol can have the same effects as tobacco on the teeth and gums because of the materials that are present in alcoholic beverages. Just about every alcoholic drink also contains carbonic acid—something found in sodas and sparkling water—that erodes the teeth and makes them thinner. Smoking, chewing and drinking are found to be the highest risk factors for oral cancer. You may also be susceptible to mouth cancer if you vape, use drugs, or consume other products that have foreign materials in them.
It is possible to develop mouth cancer from simply not taking care of your teeth and gums as well. Always make sure you follow recommended oral health guidelines and that you’re visiting your dentist frequently for oral cancer screenings.
Early Detection Can Save Your Life
Early detection is vital to overcoming mouth cancer before it becomes severe. The Oral Cancer Foundation recommends that every person start receiving these screenings by age 18 at your biannual checkups. These exams last about 5 minutes. The dentist will listen to find any speech abnormalities (such as a raspy voice) that could indicate throat cancer or abnormal growths. He will feel around the neck, jaw and mouth for lumps or abnormal tissues.
The oral exam will examine the gums, tongue, cheeks, throat and everywhere in between to check for color changes, sores and more. This should be a routine part of your dental cleaning and exam.
Signs and Symptoms
For patients that want to start checking for the warning signs of mouth cancer, they include:
- Developing lumps in the mouth.
- Thickening of the tissues in the neck or head that wasn’t there previously.
- Difficulty with swallowing, chewing, moving the tongue or jaw and speaking. This may come on gradually.
- Physical signs of sores, especially if they appear to be white in color. They may at first look like canker sores, but won’t go away like they should.
If you have any of the warning signs for mouth cancer and they don’t go away, make sure to schedule an appointment with us by calling Niles Family Dentistry at (720) 744-0001!