Two hands holding a large plastic model tooth.

Brushing Up on Your Health: A Few Important Facts for Oral Cancer Awareness Month

We all have a lot going on in our mouths, and unless you’re a dental professional, you probably aren’t sure exactly how interrelated your overall health is when it comes to dental hygiene. But even if you know a thing or two about brushing and flossing and already have a brilliant smile, there could still be danger lurking under the surface.

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month — a dedicated time to spread knowledge about this preventable disease. While oral cancer may not be as widely discussed as some other cancers, it’s crucial to be informed about the risks, signs, and steps you can take to protect your smile and your health.

This blog serves to provide you with essential information on oral hygiene and the threat of oral cancer. So, let’s brush up on our knowledge so you can make informed lifestyle choices and potentially beat oral cancer before it even starts.

Has it been a while since your last oral cancer screening? Schedule an appointment with HCD today!

What is Oral Cancer?

In a nutshell, oral cancer is the development of abnormal cells in the mouth and throat area. These cells can form tumors on the tongue, lips, gums, inner cheeks, and even the floor of the mouth. And we have to stress that, like all cancers, early detection is key for fighting this disease as it can significantly improve your treatment outcome.

Oral Cancer Risk Factors

Several factors can increase your risk of developing oral cancer. For example, one common type is oropharyngeal cancer. Beyond your tonsils and the back of your tongue lies a hidden area called the oropharynx, and this region plays a vital role in swallowing and speaking. Unfortunately, it can also be a target for oropharyngeal cancer, a type of head and neck cancer. This sneaky cancer can affect the tonsils, the back of your tongue, and even the walls of your throat.

Here are some of the most common risk factors for developing oropharyngeal cancer:

  • Tobacco Use: Heavy smoking, chewing tobacco, and even smokeless cigarettes all contribute significantly to oral cancer risk.
  • Heavy Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol intake, particularly when combined with tobacco use, has a synergistic effect, greatly amplifying the risk.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Certain strains of HPV, particularly HPV16 and HPV18, are increasingly linked to oral cancer, especially in younger adults.
  • Sun Exposure: While less common, excessive sun exposure to the lips can increase the risk of lip cancer.
  • Diet: A diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods may contribute to oral cancer risk.

The good news is that oral cancer is often highly treatable when detected early, and many dental offices offer free oral cancer screenings as part of a regular dental checkup like we do here at Health Centered Dentistry. At the end of the day, regular self-examinations and professional dental checkups are crucial for early diagnosis.

Oral Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Perhaps your biggest key defense aside from a regular oral cancer examination every 6 months is to know the signs and symptoms of oral cancer. Note that though the signs listed here can be recognized through self-examination, it’s imperative that you seek professional dental care in order to be screened properly for oral cancer.

The following include the most common signs of oral cancer:

  • Mouth sores that don’t heal within two weeks
  • Lumps or bumps on the tongue, lips, cheeks, or gums
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit together
  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
  • Loose teeth or dentures that don’t fit properly
  • Numbness or a persistent burning sensation in the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or inner cheek

Keep in mind that an advanced case of oral cancer can lead to the need for oral and maxillofacial surgery, and if left untreated oral cancer can result in severe facial disfigurement. If you experience any of the aforementioned signs or symptoms, it’s essential to schedule an appointment with your dentist right away. Remember, early detection allows for less invasive treatments with a higher success rate.

Taking Action for a Healthy Smile

It’s often said that the best defense against any problem is to be proactive in adopting actionable solutions. This also holds true for dental health. While regular brushing, flossing, and practicing good dental hygiene are your best lines of defense, here’s how you can take control and reduce your risk of oral cancer:

  • Quit Tobacco: If you use tobacco, quitting is the single most effective step you can take to lower your risk.
  • Limit Alcohol Consumption: Moderate your alcohol intake, and avoid combining it with tobacco use.
  • Maintain Good Oral Hygiene: Brush your teeth twice daily, floss regularly, and visit your dentist for regular cleanings and checkups.
  • Eat a Healthy Diet: Incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables into your diet for vital nutrients.
  • Protect Your Lips from the Sun: Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher on your lips, especially during extended sun exposure.
  • Schedule Regular Dental Checkups: Let your dentist perform an oral cancer screening during your routine appointments.

Promoting Oral Cancer Awareness Month

Oral cancer patients know just how tough dealing with this disease can be. And though research continues to make strides, there’s always more work to be done. By raising awareness, you can encourage others to prioritize their oral health and advocate for increased research funding.

For example, the Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) is a non-profit organization and a great resource for advocacy and research while also working to support those who suffer from oral cancer.

The bottom line is, oral cancer is a serious health concern. But with knowledge and proactive steps, you can significantly reduce your risk. Remember, schedule regular dental checkups at least twice a year, maintain good oral hygiene, and adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Together, we can all help the Oral Cancer Foundation cause by spreading awareness and making a difference in the fight against oral cancer.

Get an Oral Cancer Screening in Anchorage at Health Centered Dentistry

Oral cancer is no laughing matter. That’s why we take these screenings seriously and offer them as a complementary service to each dental checkup.

At Health Centered Dentistry in Anchorage, we work under a holistic approach tailored to your specific needs. At our practice, we believe oral health is a family affair. And this is why we offer comprehensive care for all ages. That means we go beyond creating sparkling smiles through teeth whitening services or cosmetic enhancements. At HCD, we’ve got you covered for restorative treatments, emergency dental procedures, and even oral surgery if needed.

Because a healthy smile starts with prevention, we’ll always advocate for thorough oral cancer screenings during every checkup. If you have any lingering mouth issues or recognize any of the warning signs mentioned earlier, don’t hesitate to call us today.

Are you overdue for a dental checkup and need an oral cancer screening? Reach out to Health Centered Dentistry today to schedule an appointment.