When a topic like oral health comes up, most people think of preventing cavities by brushing twice a day, flossing once daily and dental visits twice a year, but there’s more to consider. One condition we’d like to take a closer look at is oral cancer. There are misconceptions circulating about this disease. The team at Reston Serenity Smiles wants to examine myths and give you the facts about oral cancer.
Oral cancer may interfere with breathing, talking, eating, chewing, or swallowing. It’s important to know the risk factors associated with this disease and the symptoms. We want to clear up misinformation and educate you on how to reduce the risk of getting oral cancer.
What Is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer commonly begins in the flat, thin cells (squamous cells) lining your lips and mouth. When these cells have changes in the DNA sequence (mutations), the changes cause cancer cells to divide and grow continuously, whereas healthy cells would die.
The resulting accumulation of abnormal cells can form a tumor. If left undetected, the cancerous cells spread inside the mouth, head, neck, or other areas of the body. The cause of the mutations isn’t clear, but doctors identified several factors that may increase oral cancer risk.
Oral Cancer Risk Factors
- Smoking and chewing tobacco
- Heavily drinking alcohol
- Weakened immune system
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Too much sun exposure on the lips
- Previous cancer diagnosis
- Over 40 years old
- Poor oral hygiene practices
Oral Cancer Myths
Myth #1: I don’t smoke, so I can’t get oral cancer.
Fact: Use of tobacco products is one of the highest oral cancer risk factors, but nonsmokers also get oral cancer.
Myth # 2: I’m young. I don’t have to worry about oral cancer.
Fact: Some young adults are getting the disease because there’s a link between oral cancer and HPV.
Myth #3: Oral cancer is uncommon.
Fact: Oral and lip cancers ranked 16th among common cancers worldwide for 2018, according to World Cancer Research Fund International.
Myth #4: If I had oral cancer, I would know.
Fact: Oral cancer can develop without symptoms in areas such as the lymph nodes, tonsils, and the base of the tongue.
Myth #5: None of the risk factors apply to me, so I don’t need an oral cancer screening.
Fact: In the fight against oral cancer, screenings are part of a routine dental exam. Early detection is vital to receive the best outcome from treatment.
Oral Cancer Symptoms
- Red or white patches in your mouth
- Mouth or lip sores don’t heal
- Jaw swelling or pain
- Strange thickening or lump in your cheek, tongue, gums, neck, or face
- Constant mouth pain
- Difficult or painful to chew or swallow
- Feeling like something’s stuck in your throat
- Loose permanent teeth
Reduce Your Risk Factors
- No use of tobacco products
- Consume alcohol in moderation
- Eat healthy meals
- Take measures to protect yourself from HPV
- Avoid too much sun
- Receive regular dental exams
Remember, detecting oral cancer in the early stages increases favorable treatment outcomes. At least once a year, get screened during a routine exam and cleaning. People who have high risk factors may need screening more frequently. When was your last dental visit? If you live in Reston, Virginia, or the surrounding areas, contact our office to schedule an appointment.