Take the steps to prevent oral cancer

You can take steps to prevent oral cancer. Learn the risk factors and adopt a lifestyle that protects your oral health. Visit your dentist regularly. Your dentist can look for changes that could indicate disease.

Checking for signs of oral cancer is part of a regular dental checkup. Your dentist can examine your oral tissues easily by looking at your lips and the inside of your mouth. Your dentist will check your gingivae (gums) carefully, the inside of your cheeks and your tongue (the sides and underneath). Also, the dentist will look at the roof and floor of your mouth. During this checkup, your dentist will be looking for one or more of the following:
» a red or white patch
» a sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
» a thick or hard spot or a lump
» a roughened or crusted area

Other signs of oral cancer include numbness, pain or tenderness, or a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down. Tell your dentist about any problems you have when chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your tongue or jaw.

Many of the risk factors for oral cancer stem from behaviors that can be avoided. Oral cancer most often develops in people who smoke (cigarettes, pipes or cigars) and drink heavily. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers heavy drinking to be an average of two drinks a day or more for men and an average of more than one drink a day for women. Smokeless tobacco products also increase one’s risk of developing oral lesions. Repeated and prolonged exposure to the sun can cause lip cancer. Infection with some forms of the human papillomavirus places people at risk as well. If you have had oral cancer, you may be more likely to develop it again.

Your dentist is interested not only in your teeth. Your dentist also checks the general appearance and health of your oral tissues as part of a regular examination and looks for any changes or abnormalities in your mouth, face and neck. Your dentist will not be able to diagnose cancer during an examination. Oral cancer can be diagnosed only with a biopsy, when a sample of tissue in the area is removed and examined under a microscope. However, your dentist can identify suspicious-looking areas or growths that may need further evaluation. The American Dental Association has developed recommendations to help your dentist check for signs of oral cancer. If anything unusual appears during your examination, he or she might re-examine you in one or two weeks. It is possible that the questionable spot might heal during that time. Or your dentist may refer you to another dentist or a physician for a second opinion. You and your dentist can talk about your options and what might be causing the abnormality.

(Courtesy of American Dental Association)