When it comes to oral cancer - which can affect the throat, lips and other areas of the mouth - early detection is key. As your dentist is often the first healthcare provider who’ll become aware of the signs of oral cancer, keeping up with your regular dental check-ups is an important factor in noticing this cancer as soon as possible.
Every standard check up at a National Dental Care practice includes an oral cancer check, which aims to find any signs of cancer in your mouth early.
Read on to discover more about oral cancer and how your dentist can help to identify the signs early.
What is mouth cancer?
Oral cancer is cancer that develops in the tissues of the mouth or throat. Oral cancer can occur in the following areas:
● Lip cancer
● Tongue cancer
● Cheek cancer
● Gum cancer
● Floor of the mouth cancer
● Hard and soft palate cancer
How do you detect mouth cancer?
Whenever you have a dental examination at one of our practices, your dentist will perform an oral cancer screening. This check aims to identify any signs of cancer in your mouth early so that necessary medical treatment can start as soon as possible.
During your examination, your dentist will also look for any changes in the soft tissues of your mouth, such as the tongue, floor of the mouth, lips and cheeks, as certain changes may put you at risk of developing oral cancer in the future.
While having a professional keep an eye on your oral health is ideal, you can also perform your own checks at home.
The symptoms of oral cancer may include some or all of the following:
● A persistent sore on your lip or mouth that won’t heal
● A mass or growth anywhere in the mouth
● Bleeding from your mouth
● Loose teeth
● Pain or difficulty swallowing
● Ill-fitting dentures
● A lump in your neck
● An earache that won’t go away
● Dramatic weight loss
● Numbness in the lower lip, face, neck or chin
● White and/or red patches in or on your mouth or lips
● Sore throat
● Jaw pain or stiffness
● Tongue pain
Not all of these symptoms indicate oral cancer. However, if you experience these symptoms - particularly if they’re persistent or you have more than one symptom at a time - it’s important to see your dentist or doctor as soon as possible.
What’s more, if you’ve discovered any unusual lumps or lesions in your mouth that have been there for more than two weeks, or if you’ve had difficulty swallowing during this time, tell your dentist during your appointment so that they can perform a more thorough examination.
What are the risks for oral cancer?
One of the primary risk factors for developing oral cancer is using tobacco, which includes smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes, or chewing tobacco.
Using tobacco in addition to consuming large amounts of alcohol increases the risk even more, particularly when both products are consumed regularly.
Aside from tobacco use, some other risk factors for oral cancer include:
● Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
● Chronic facial sun exposure
● Previous diagnosis of oral cancer
● Family history of oral or other types of cancer
● Weakened immune system
● Poor nutrition
● Genetic syndromes
● Sex (men are twice as likely to get oral cancer than women)
● How long does it take for mouth cancer to develop?
● There are five oral cancer stages in total, and it typically takes a long time for mouth cancer to advance through these stages.
Usually, oral cancers will take years to grow.
By maintaining regular dentist appointments for checkups and screenings, and knowing the signs to look out for at home, you have a better chance of catching any cancers in their early stages when they have better treatment outcomes.
Is oral cancer curable?
Treatment for oral cancer will vary depending on the type, location, and oral cancer stages. Treatment options may include the following:
● Radiation therapy
● Targeted therapy
● Improved nutrition and oral hygiene
Generally speaking, mouth cancer can be treated if it is found in its early stages before it spreads. A successful outcome is to get rid of the cancer and keep it from coming back.
That’s why it’s so important to have regular screenings and get in touch with your dentist should you ever notice anything that looks amiss.
Your health professional will be able to determine the spread of anything they find and create a treatment plan that gives you the best possible chance of beating the cancer. They will also be able to give you a prognosis based on the type of cancer, how far it has spread, and other factors.
Is a mouth cancer screening appointment right for me?
Because a mouth cancer screening is included with every regular check up, there is even more incentive for you to see your dentist regularly. If you notice any oral cancer symptoms or feel it’s time to check-in with your dentist, find your nearest dental practice and book online to get a professional opinion on your oral health.