Taking diligent care of your oral health is essential throughout your lifetime. While you may brush and floss daily, however, problems can still arise. One, in particular, is the often unnoticeable development of oral cancer. The more you know about this type of cancer, including its symptoms, causes, and treatments, the more you can stay aware of its potential to affect you or a loved one and take action early on.
Oral Cancer Symptoms
Oral cancer affects the mouth, or oral cavity, which includes the lips, tongue, and inner cheeks. It can also affect the oropharynx area located at the back of your mouth, where the soft palate (roof of your mouth), walls of the throat, and the tonsils reside.
Symptoms of oral cancer can vary and are often difficult to spot and diagnose. You may not even notice any symptoms during the early stages of development. Common ones you may notice, however, include the following:
- Mouth sores that are slow to heal
- Unexplained bleeding in the interior of the mouth
- Bumps or lumps in the oral cavity that don’t go away
- White or reddish patches inside your mouth
- On-going pain in the mouth or jaw
- A numb feeling in the lower lip or chin area
- Slight lumps in the lymph nodes of the neck
- Sudden changes in your voice
- Difficulty swallowing
Even if you experience any of these conditions, it isn’t a guarantee that you have oral cancer, so try not to panic. Schedule an appointment with your dentist to discuss your concerns and undergo an oral cancer screening.
Common Causes of Oral Cancer
While oral cancer can develop in anyone at any age, certain factors will put you at a higher risk. These factors include the following.
- Tobacco Use: The leading cause of oral cancer is tobacco use, which can be in the form of smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes or using smokeless tobacco products, including chewing tobacco or snuff
- Heavy Alcohol Habits: Excessive drinking of alcohol increases your risk of oral cancer.
- Significant Sun Exposure: If you spend a lot of time in the sun without periodically applying sunblock, especially to the lips, oral cancer can result.
- Family History: A family history of cancer can put you at higher risk, even if you practice diligent oral hygiene.
- Weakened or compromised immune system
- HPV (Human papillomavirus)
Any combination of these factors can increase your risk level.
Oral Cancer Diagnosis
Several steps are required to actually diagnose oral cancer. It can start with an oral cancer screening by your dentist to identify any abnormalities. This screening will include an examination of your mouth and throat, including the tongue, gums, lips, inner cheeks, roof of your mouth, and back of the throat. Your dentist will also gently palpate the facial cheek areas, under your chin, along the jaw, and over the lymph nodes of your neck.
Your dental office may also use a more advanced diagnostic tool to detect hidden abnormalities naked to the human eye. If something is found, your dentist may make a note of it and schedule you for a follow-up appointment to determine if it is still present and if it changes between visits.
Keep in mind, however, that even if your dentist finds an abnormality, that doesn’t mean you have oral cancer. For that determination and diagnosis, a biopsy will be required. A biopsy is the obtaining of cell samples to test in a laboratory. There may be other tests as well.
Oral Cancer Treatments
Oral cancer treatments can vary and will depend on how far along it is and its location. You may need one of the following or a combination.
- Drug therapy
- Surgery to remove a tumor or cancer cells that spread
- Radiation therapy
Much will also depend on your physical health overall and any personal preferences.
Ways to Help Prevent Oral Cancer
Oral cancer is largely preventable. Such prevention, however, will likely involve you making lifestyle changes and taking more proactive measures to protect your health. Consider how you can incorporate the following preventive steps into your daily routines.
- Continue practicing good oral hygiene, including brushing and flossing daily to keep germs at bay. When germs linger inside the mouth, infections can form and can create an environment more prone to cancer.
- Quit or avoid tobacco in all its forms.
- Decrease alcohol consumption.
- Wear sunblock or sunscreen on lips and face when in the sun.
- Limit UV exposure overall.
- Add healthy fruits and vegetables to your diet.
- Perform self-examinations of your mouth and throat on a regular basis, looking for anything abnormal such as lumps, bumps, discoloration, or red or white patches.
- Schedule regular dental cleanings and exams.
Staying proactive in the steps you take and becoming more aware of what oral cancer entails, including possible symptoms, can help you maintain a healthy mouth throughout your lifetime.
Schedule Your Next Appointment with Linworth Family Dental
Take your efforts to maintain a healthy mouth and smile a step further by undergoing oral cancer screenings at each dental cleaning and exam at Linworth Family Dental. Our team will specifically look for any signs of abnormalities and let you know what can be done if found. Get in touch today by calling (614) 799-9500 or by using the easy online contact form on our website.