When you think about oral health, you’re probably thinking about brushing and flossing to prevent cavities and bad breath. While those are certainly very important, it’s also important to take steps that will prevent oral cancer as well as know what to do when you see symptoms. To shed more light on this, Dr. Hamby, an experienced Fuquay Varina Dentist, is providing the information you need to know.
What Is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer includes both oral cavity cancer as well as oropharynx cancer. Oral cavity cancer includes the entirety of the mouth:
- The interior lining of the lips and cheeks
- Gum tissue
- Tongue and area below the tongue
- Hard palate (the hard roof of the mouth)
- The area behind wisdom teeth
The oropharynx is the part of the throat that you can see when the mouth is open and includes:
- The back third of the tongue
- Soft palate
- Side and back of the throat
Nearly all oral cancer diagnoses are squamous cell carcinomas or squamous cell cancers. This means cancer starts forming in the flat, thin cells, called epithelium, forming the lining of the throat and mouth. However, cancer can develop in the salivary glands or in the lymphoid tissue of the tonsils and the base of the tongue.
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
If you see any of the following signs or changes in your mouth or throat, it’s important to address them with your dentist immediately.
- Sores in the mouth or throat that don’t heal
- White or red patches in the mouth
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
- Ear pain that doesn’t go away
- Bleeding that lasts longer than a week
- Slow-growing lumps in the mouth or throat
- Dramatic voice changes
- Numbness in the lower lip or chin
It’s not uncommon for these symptoms to go unnoticed, especially in patients who don’t experience pain or irritation. Having a teeth cleaning and checkup every six months ensures that your dentist can screen and look for areas of concern. Early detection and treatment drastically improve the likelihood of a positive outcome.
How to Prevent Oral Cancer
Fortunately, most oral cancer can be prevented with the proper steps.
Stop Using Tobacco Products
Smoking, as well as smokeless tobacco, drastically increases your risk of mouth and throat cancer. Chewing tobacco and snuff has chemicals that damage genes that are proven to reduce your risk of developing cancer and can also cause grayish ulcers in the mouth called leukoplakia which can turn into cancer if untreated.
Drink in Moderation
Drinking excessively and binge drinking can change your body’s chemistry and affect its ability to defend itself against cancer. Also, alcohol can irritate the tissues and make them vulnerable to developing cancer cells.
Visit Your Dentist Every Six Months
As we mentioned above, your dentist will check your mouth and throat for any abnormalities and can screen for cancer or precancerous growths in the area.
Get Vaccinated for HPV
Certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) can increase the risk of oropharyngeal cancers that develop in the back of the throat. Getting vaccinated and practicing safe sex can significantly reduce the risk.
Wear Lip Balm with SPF
Just like your skin, your lips are also vulnerable to sun damage which can lead to skin cancer. Be sure to wear a protective lip balm that contains SPF and reapply it after eating, drinking, or being in the water.
Schedule a Checkup at Hamby Family Dental Center Today
Whether you are concerned about a symptom of mouth cancer, or you are simply due for a teeth cleaning and checkup, we can help. We’re currently accepting new patients at our dental center in Fuquay-Varina and are dedicated to your dental and oral health. To schedule an appointment, call us today at 919-552-2431 or fill out the form below.