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Posted on: November 21, 2022
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is also known as mouth cancer. It develops on your lips and in the soft tissues of your mouth. The cell’s DNA changes and can multiply, spreading the cancer to other parts of the mouth and body. Even though about 54,000 new cases of mouth cancer are discovered every year in the U.S., many people don’t know much about it. If they did, more lives could be saved, as early detection is the key to successful treatment outcomes.
Every November, we have Mouth Cancer Action Month. The goal of the campaign is to stress understanding the signs and knowing the risk factors to help avoid it. Our periodontist in Alpharetta can screen you for any abnormalities and treat those that affect the gums. Periodontists specialize in treating gum issues.
You can also learn how to perform self screenings at home during Mouth Cancer Action Month, so if you see anything abnormal, you can get it checked out right away. Look throughout your entire oral cavity, including under your tongue. Use a flashlight and mirror if necessary. Also feel for any lumps. If you see a sore, keep an eye on it to see if it heals in two weeks.
Gum health is vitally important to your oral health. If you notice anything unusual with your gums, schedule an appointment with a periodontist in Alpharetta today.
What Signs of Oral Cancer Should I Be Aware Of?
In between visits to your dental care provider, you should make an appointment for an oral cancer screening if you notice any of the following signs:
- Ulcers or sores that don’t heal within three weeks
- Red or white patches in your mouth
- Unusual thick patches
- Periodontal disease symptoms
Periodontal disease alone does not cause oral cancer even though the symptoms may appear similar. However, according to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, it can increase the risk of a person developing it by up to 20%.
What Makes People Get Oral Cancer?
Actions or circumstances that increase your risk of developing oral cancer are called risk factors. Nevertheless, some people develop mouth cancer without any known risk factors. Major risk factors include:
Periodontal (gum) disease is a bacterial infection. Your body’s immune system will fight it, but it will leave your immune system compromised. Any time this happens, you are more susceptible to developing mouth cancer from other risk factors. Your periodontist in Alpharetta, if you are getting periodontal disease treatment, is the ideal person to spot any signs of abnormalities on your gums and in the rest of your mouth.
Tobacco use in the primary cause of mouth cancer. This includes all types of tobacco, including vaping. Smokers have an up to 10 times greater risk than people who have never smoked. Smokeless or chewing tobacco is equally dangerous. The type of tobacco you use will influence where you get oral cancer. For example, pipe smokers often get lip cancer where the pipe touches the lips. Even secondhand smoke can be a risk factor.
Excessive Alcohol Use
Many people who get oral cancer are both smokers and heavy alcohol users. Excessive alcohol use is 21 or more drinks per week. Alcohol irritates your mouth and throat, making it easier for cancer-causing agents in tobacco to damage soft tissue cells.
What Are the Other Risk Factors for Oral Cancer?
1. Gender – Men develop mouth cancer at twice the rate women do. Researchers believe this is because men are more likely to smoke and drink heavily.
2. Age – The average age for an oral cancer diagnosis in 63. While it can occur in younger individuals, it is most common in older individuals. One in five cases occur in people younger than age 55.
3. Prolonged Exposure to Sunlight – People who spend lots of time outdoors during the daytime have an increased risk for lip cancer, especially on the bottom lip.
4. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection – These mouth cancers are often seen in younger individuals.
5. Poor Nutrition – A diet low in fruits and vegetables that contain antioxidants may increase your risk.
6. Previous Oral, Head or Neck Cancer – If you’ve had any of these cancers before, your risk increases.
7. Poor Oral Health – Poorly fitting dentures or broken teeth in your mouth can cause sores that allow cancer-causing agents in tobacco to enter cells in soft tissues.
5. Any disease or medication you take that weakens your immune system.
Up to 25% of the individuals who get oral cancer don’t have any known risk factors, so regular screenings are extremely important. There’s research currently going on to see if there are other risk factors, like marijuana use and drinking very hot liquids, that present a threat.
How Do Oral Care Professionals Treat Mouth Cancer?
Once you have an oral cancer diagnosis, you may see a team of specialist dentists and medical doctors who will come up with a treatment plan for you. Your treatment will depend on where the cancer started in your mouth, if it has spread, and your overall general health.
Your treatment may consist of removing the cancerous cells, radiation, chemotherapy, or medications. You may also need treatment for the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation to help you speak or eat or drink normally again. If your oral cancer was advanced, you may need reconstructive surgery afterward to improve your mouth’s function and appearance. Ask your treatment team about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of each treatment recommended to you.
It is essential to quit all tobacco use before treatment. If you don’t, the treatments won’t be as effective. Smoking also makes it harder for your body to heal and more likely to develop infections.
You’ll also meet with a nutritionist. Oral cancer and the treatments may make it harder for you to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs to heal.
Can I Prevent Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is one of the more preventable cancers. While some people get the disease without any known risk factors, regular dental exams and teeth cleanings can catch these cases early while they are easier to treat and treatment is more successful. Your gum health is important to your quality of life. Schedule an appointment with your periodontist if you have any questions about the health of your gums.
If you use tobacco in any form, quitting is the best thing you can do to prevent oral cancer. According to the Oral Health Foundation, if you quit now, in one to for years, your risk of developing mouth cancer drops by 35%. Quitting also reduces your chances of gum disease, lung disease, and other health problems. Also, be sure to only drink alcohol in moderate amounts.
You can also wear lip balm with sunscreen when you go out when the sun is at its hottest to help prevent lip cancer. Eat a healthy diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables. Take good care of your teeth and gums too. Maintaining good oral health can help you keep your mouth healthy. It can also help prevent gum disease, which is one of the risk factors for developing oral cancer.
Gum health is vital to maintaining a healthy mouth. Schedule an appointment with your periodontist in Alpharetta today if you notice any issues.