Oral cancer is particularly alarming because it is usually asymptomatic and unnoticed during its preliminary stages. Dentists can serve as the first line of defense for oral cancer because they are equipped to catch the disease early in most cases. Oral cancer accounts for 5% of all cancer cases and lead to about one death per hour in the United States! Risk factors for developing oral cancer include tobacco use, alcohol use, sun exposure (lips), and HPV (human papilloma virus) infection.
Oral cancer is typically painless early on but can become painful once more fully developed. Immediately see a dentist if you notice any of the following: changes in the alignment of your teeth, oral sores that will not heal, lumps, rough spots, or crusty areas in your mouth, or difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving your mouth. During an oral exam, dentists will check the oral cavity for any of the above changes that you may not yet notice. An oral cancer screening is part of a routine dental exam even when you have no symptoms.
Oral cancer can be treated by a variety of different methods including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The treatment varies depending on the type and severity of the cancer. To help prevent oral cancer abstain from all of the known risk factors and have young children vaccinated for HPV. Because treatment outcomes are dependent upon how early the cancer is detected, it is extremely important to regularly check your mouth for any changes and to maintain regular dental visits at least every six months. For more information on this and other dental related topics, visit www.KnowYourTeeth.com.