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    What You Don’t Know about Oral Cancer—and Why Screenings Are Important

    by Saunders DDS on May 1, 2017

    Oral cancer will kill almost 10,000 people in the United States this year.

    Oral cancer can be a sneaky disease. Often, people don’t notice the symptoms until cancer has already progressed in the body. This is why getting oral cancer screenings with your Asheville dentist is so important!

    Knowing your risk for oral cancer as well as the signs and symptoms can help you catch this disease early. Here’s what you don’t know about oral cancer, as well as how you can minimize your risk and seek treatment before it’s too late.

    What Is Oral Cancer?

    Oral cancer is cancer that develops in any part of the mouth, but could also include cancers in the face, neck, cheek, and tongue.

    Identifying oral cancer can be tricky, but inflammation is at the heart of this disease. Any pain, swelling, or odd-looking patches in your mouth should be evaluated by your dentist in Asheville for oral cancer.

    Oral cancer screenings are entirely painless and only take a few minutes. They can easily be conducted during your professional teeth cleaning.

    Rates of Oral Cancer in the U.S

    Nearly 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year. People who receive treatment and survive the disease have a 57% survival rate after five years of being diagnosed. That’s still a large number of people who don’t survive oral cancer.

    The success of your treatment will depend on how late in its development the cancer is diagnosed. Although you may not recognize the symptoms, screening for the disease is paramount to avoid a late discovery.

    If oral cancer has metastasized to another area in the body such as the lymph nodes, this is worse than having a localized area of the disease and will be harder to treat. Get screenings so you can ensure your mouth is healthy!

    Risk Factors

    The risk factors for oral cancer are very similar to those for other types of cancers in the body. These risk factors include:

    • Smoking. More than a third of people do not realize that smoking is linked to oral cancer. The truth is that 90% of people who have oral cancer use some type of tobacco product. People who use these products are six times more likely to develop oral cancer. Smokeless tobacco raises your risk for oral cancer as well—by 50 times!
    • Alcohol. 80% of patients with oral cancer drink alcohol. This is a significant risk factor, and the combination of tobacco and alcohol is even worse.
    • Sun exposure. 30% of oral cancer patients have experienced prolonged exposure to sunlight.
    • Age. Your risk for cancer increases as you age. The vast majority of people (86%) are diagnosed at age 50 or above.
    • Being male. Oral cancers are twice as common in men as they are in women.
    • Not eating well. The fewer fruits and vegetables you eat, the higher your risk for developing oral cancer.

    It’s important to note that 90% of mouth cancers are linked to lifestyle or environmental factors. This could include your exposure to certain chemicals as well as lifestyle factors like drinking and smoking.

    It’s also worth noting that while not all of these risk factors are controllable, many of them are. Drinking and smoking are lifestyle choices. Sun exposure can be controlled or at least managed with a quality sunscreen.

    Although age and sex are genetic, you can make healthier eating choices to help reduce your risk for oral cancer!

    Screenings and Symptoms

    Receiving annual screenings for oral cancer with your Asheville dental practice can help to catch oral cancer early. As a routine part of your exam, this screening is painless and easy. Your dentist will simply check for any lumps in your neck, cheeks, or face.

    Your Asheville dentist will also look for any white or red patches in your mouth. It’s important that you talk to your dentist about any sores you have that won’t heal or other symptoms you experience.

    Other symptoms of oral cancer your dentist will ask about and look for include:

    • Persistent pain in the mouth
    • A lump in your cheek or neck
    • Patches of red or white on your gums or tongue
    • A persistent or unexplained sore throat
    • Trouble chewing and swallowing
    • Numbness or swelling in your mouth or face
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Loose teeth or bad breath, which are also symptoms of gum disease

    If you have any of the above symptoms, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. Simply being aware of the symptoms can help you know when you need a checkup.

    Annual or bi-annual checkups can help assess if oral cancer is present and your dentist in Asheville can give you more tips on reducing your oral cancer risk!

    Reduce Your Risk and Get Checkups

    Reducing your risk for oral cancer is easier than you think.

    Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and avoiding sugary foods such as sodas and sweets is paramount. Incorporate fruits and vegetables with every meal to get your servings in!

    Sugar can also promote inflammation, which is a risk factor for both cancer and heart disease. Eat more whole foods and less processed foods that contain sugar to promote wellness in your body and mouth.

    Visiting your dentist for professional teeth cleanings and an oral exam can routinely remove plaque and help improve your oral care routine. Your Asheville dentist can advise you on better brushing tips and get you motivated to floss!

    If you drink and smoke regularly, consider making changes to your lifestyle routines. Find resources for quitting the tobacco habit, and limit alcohol as much as possible. Alcohol is also extremely erosive to your tooth enamel.

    When you spend more than 10-20 minutes outside in direct sunlight, it’s a good idea to use sunscreen.

    Getting diagnosed with oral cancer is not a death sentence. Seeking treatment early is paramount to your success, but getting treatment can’t happen without a diagnosis. Be on top of your oral care and get regular screenings to ensure you don’t have oral cancer.

    Checkups are simple and can help you stay on track and reduce your risk! You can keep your mouth healthy through brushing and flossing, but remember that oral health is a comprehensive routine. Taking care of your mouth can ensure a healthy body and a healthy heart.

    Schedule a visit with us today to get an oral cancer screening with your dental exam and cleaning!

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