Mouth cancer (oral cancer) kills one person per hour every day in the United States. Despite this frightening statistic, mouth cancer is highly treatable in its early stages. That’s why knowing the risk factors, symptoms, and diagnostic options is essential for protecting yourself.
Mouth cancer screenings, which can be performed by your dentist, are essential for diagnosis and treatment. Tobacco use and alcohol abuse are the biggest risk factors for developing mouth cancer. Sun exposure, HPV, and a prior history of mouth cancer can also increase your risk. The best form of prevention is living a healthy lifestyle. Symptoms include sores, pain, and discolored skin.
Mouth Cancer Screenings in Knoxville, TN
Mouth cancer screenings are one of the most important tools in diagnosing the disease and getting the treatment you need. Prevention is always preferable to treatment, but early detection drastically improves your chances of being treated successfully.
As Dr. Austin Owen explains in his Mission Minutes video on Facebook:
One of our guiding principles is to ensure overall health in each one of our patients, and one of the ways we do this is with an oral cancer screening. Did you know that 25% of patients who have been diagnosed with oral cancer were asymptomatic and had no risk factors? And for those who did have the risk factors, they had an excessive increase in diagnosis. These risk factors include sun exposure, smoking, and dipping. Most people believe that when they go to the dentist, they’re just getting their teeth cleaned, but at My Family Dentistry, we make sure to do this oral cancer screening.
It can be easy for mouth cancer to be missed during a traditional physical exam. That’s why our team prioritizes screenings to catch it. Dr. Owen goes on to explain:
Dr. Mullins and I, as well as our hygienists, are all in a unique position to perform an oral screening as well as a head and neck exam to detect any changes and make the appropriate recommendations and referrals if necessary. You can rest easy at My Family Dentistry knowing that we have your overall health at the forefront of our mind and of our treatment and of our care for you.
What to Expect During Your Mouth Cancer Screening
Mouth cancer is something that we’re always looking for in our office. We examine your mouth by having you stick your tongue out and may even use gauze to hold your tongue and move it from left to right. This can seem uncomfortable at first, but it allows Dr. Owen and Dr. Mullins to get a more complete view inside your mouth.
As Dr. Mullins explains:
The borders of the tongue and the floor of the mouth are the most common areas for oral cancer. That’s why we look underneath the tongue, at the floor of your mouth, as well as the other soft tissues.
Mouth cancer is rare according to Dr. Mullins, with only 3% of cancers occurring in the mouth. However, there are steps we’ll take if we find an area of concern. We will:
- Take a photo of the area
- Measure it
- Schedule a two-week follow-up
If there hasn’t been a change after two weeks then we will refer you to an oral surgeon. We may perform the biopsy ourselves depending on the size of the lesion. The sample is sent to a pathologist who tests it and sends the results back to us.
To learn what you can do to prevent mouth cancer, click here!
There are multiple factors that can increase your risk of developing mouth cancer. However, the two biggest factors are tobacco use and alcohol consumption. Other factors such as poor mouth hygiene and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) may also play a part. While these factors may increase your risk of developing mouth cancer, they don’t guarantee it.
Tobacco use is easily the biggest risk factor for developing mouth cancer. Numerous studies have linked cigarette smoking to cancer of the mouth, including some of the largest disease studies ever performed. These important studies have shown a clear connection between smoking and mouth cancer.
But the connection between mouth cancer and tobacco use isn’t limited to cigarettes. While the majority of cases are linked to cigarettes, these same studies have shown that smoking cigars and pipes are similar to or poses an even higher risk than cigarette smoking. Similarly, long-term users of smokeless tobacco have a 50% higher risk of mouth cancer than those who never use it at all.
Alcohol abuse is a close second for risk factors of mouth cancer. Having the occasional drink is not likely to increase your risk of mouth cancer. However, it can become a major problem in more ways than one if it becomes abuse, which is more than 21 drinks per week.
The overconsumption of alcohol is rarely a factor on its own. In fact, it’s usually paired with tobacco causing a double-whammy of negative effects on your mouth and overall health! Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on the cell walls, and experts believe that makes it easier for carcinogens to penetrate your mouth tissue, greatly increasing your risk of mouth cancer.
Other Risk Factors of Mouth Cancer
While tobacco use and alcohol abuse create the highest risk, there are other factors you should consider when assessing your risk. Some of the most important on the list are:
- Excessive sun exposure
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Having had mouth cancer before
Excessive sun exposure can cause cancer to develop around the outer edge of the lip. Everyone is at risk for sun-related cancer. However, you should be extra careful if you have lighter skin.
There are over 100 types of HPV, but about 40 can lead to mouth and throat cancer. Despite a drop in mouth cancer cases, HPV-related cases are on the rise.
You’ll need to be on the lookout for new cases of mouth cancer if you’ve had it before. This also means checking for signs of cancer in your nose, vocal cords, trachea, and esophagus. Dr. Mullins or Dr. Owen can perform these checks and make a recommendation based on what they find.
Reducing Your Risk
The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of developing mouth cancer is to stop smoking. Not only will it drastically reduce your risk of mouth cancer, but you’ll be protecting other aspects of your health as well.
Quitting smoking reduces your risk of mouth cancer by half after five years. Within 10 years of smoking cessation, your risk is reduced to about the same as someone who has never smoked in their life. This is especially important if you already have a history of mouth cancer.
Quitting smoking is one of the few consistently measurable ways to reduce your risk of mouth cancer. However, making good life choices will still protect your health in a variety of ways.
Make an effort to:
- Be more active
- Eat a healthy and diverse diet
- Maintain good mouth hygiene
- Wear sunscreen and a hat when outside
By committing to a healthy lifestyle, you’ll be protecting your health as well as setting an example for those around you.
Mouth Cancer Symptoms
The symptoms of mouth cancer can vary, but it usually reveals itself in the form of mouth sores and long-lasting pain. You may also notice red or white patches on your gums, tonsils, and the lining of your mouth.
Click here to learn more about mouth cancer symptoms!
Signs of mouth cancer can also include:
- Neck swelling
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- A lump in your cheek
- Continuous bad breath
- Difficulty moving your tongue or jaw
- The feeling that something is caught in your throat
Contact your dentist if you have any of these symptoms. They will be able to diagnose the problem and get you the treatment you need, whether it is mouth cancer or another cause for concern.
Do you want to learn more about your risk of developing mouth cancer? Contact us today to learn to schedule your screening!
We believe everyone deserves to have a smile they can be proud of, and we provide that to our patients using the latest techniques in comfortable dentistry. My Family Dentistry is open Monday through Thursday. Give us a call at (865) 947-6453 or you can schedule an appointment online.