April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and dental professionals everywhere are encouraging their patients to be aware of the signs and risk factors.
Your smile can open many doors for you. It invites people in, affects the first impression you make, and expresses how you feel. You may go to the dentist to keep your smile in great condition, but your dentist can help you identify issues that lie beneath the surface.
Nearly 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with mouth cancer every year. Knowing about the symptoms can help you identify the disease early on and receive the proper treatment before it progresses.
Here are the symptoms and causes of mouth cancer — and what you can do to help prevent it.
Mouth cancer symptoms can vary, but common issues include:
- Sores that don’t heal
- White or reddish patches inside your mouth
- Loose teeth
- Mouth and ear pain
- Difficulty swallowing or chewing
- Swelling in your neck
- Weight loss
- Chronic bad breath
- Difficulty moving your mouth or jaw
- Feeling as if something is caught in your throat
- Changes in your voice, issues speaking
If you notice one or several of these symptoms, be sure to schedule an appointment with your dentist immediately. Our team of compassionate and experienced dental professionals can help you stay on top of your oral health and guide you along the way.
Causes of Mouth Cancer
Mouth cancer begins when the cells in your lips and mouth develop mutations in their DNA. DNA is responsible for instructing your cells what to do — it helps them function properly and multiply at healthy rates.
When cells mutate, their DNA is affected. Instead of instructing your cells how to do their job, it tells them to continuously multiply. Cells are supposed to multiply and die at a steady rate, and when they become cancerous, the mutated cells accumulate and ultimately form a tumor.
Many notice a specific area of concern in their mouth when oral cancer begins. But, like other forms of cancer, it can spread — reaching other areas of your mouth, your head, and other parts of your body. This is why it’s important to keep up with your dental appointments and the state of your oral health.
While it isn’t clear what causes mouth cancer specifically, there are several risk factors that can increase your chances of developing it.
Risk Factors of Mouth Cancer
Your lifestyle and habits can impact many parts of your life — and your health is no exception. Here are a few common risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing mouth cancer:
- Tobacco use – Consuming tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, can expose you to carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents.
- Heavy drinking – Drink in moderation, if you choose to at all. Heavy drinking can cause a plethora of health issues concerning your entire body, but like tobacco, it contains harmful carcinogens that can greatly increase your risk of developing mouth cancer.
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that affects your skin and membranes. In rare cases, certain types of HPV can cause excessive tissue growth inside your mouth.
- Excessive sun exposure to your lips – Protect your lips from sun damage by wearing an SPF lip balm or wearing a wide-brim hat to limit exposure to your mouth.
- A weak or compromised immune system – Your body’s natural defenses are a huge determining factor when it comes to your health. Autoimmune issues can vary in severity and can increase your chances of developing certain health issues.
Tobacco and alcohol use are 2 of the biggest risk factors that can lead to mouth cancer. Around 80% of people with mouth cancer consume tobacco, and around 70% heavily consume alcohol. People who heavily smoke and drink are almost 100% more likely to develop mouth cancer than those who don’t.
How You Can Help Prevent Mouth Cancer
Living a healthy lifestyle can help decrease your chances of getting mouth cancer. Taking care of your mind and body is important for maintaining your overall wellbeing, and you can do several things to help keep your oral health in top condition:
- Remember to minimize sun exposure to your lips, use an SPF lip balm to fight harmful UV rays.
- Eat a well-balanced diet consisting of fruits and vegetables.
- Drink in moderation, if at all.
- Keep up with best oral hygiene practices — brush your teeth twice a day, floss once a day, and try to limit yourself from foods that can harm your teeth.
The Best Care for Your Specific Needs
Your smile says a lot about you and your health. If you’ve noticed a change in your oral health, or just want to make sure you’re on top of everything, you should schedule an appointment with a reputable dentist.
Access Health Dental’s team of experienced and compassionate dental professionals is dedicated to providing you with the best care possible. We’ll look at your unique situation and communicate openly with you regarding your health and treatment.