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Oral Cancer: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Prevention Strategies

A patient getting her teeth checked.

Oral cancer is a type of cancer that affects the tissues of the mouth, including the lips, tongue, cheeks, and gums. It is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition if not treated early on. According to research, about 30% of people survive their cancer for five years or more after diagnosis.

This blog will explore the risk factors, symptoms, and prevention strategies for oral cancer.

Risk Factors for Oral Cancer

Tobacco Use

Smoking cigarettes and cigars, or using smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco and snuff, are among the major risk factors for oral cancer. The chemicals in tobacco damage the DNA in human cells, increasing the risk of cancer.

Alcohol Consumption

Heavy alcohol consumption can cause various health problems like tooth decay, erosion, and oral cancer. Just like tobacco, alcohol is also carcinogenic and is a significant risk factor for cancer in the mouth and gut.

Exposure to HPV

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus that occurs in people who engage in sexual activity with someone who has the virus. It is also possible to contract HPV from close contact during sex. According to research, HPV can infect the mouth and throat and cause cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue.

Family History

Having a family history of cancer, particularly oral cancer, puts individuals at an increased risk of developing the disease.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

The symptoms of oral cancer can vary depending on the location and stage of cancer. Some common symptoms include:

  1. Red or white patches on the tongue, gums, or lining of the mouth

  2. Swelling or lumps in the mouth, throat, or neck

  3. Difficulty chewing or swallowing

  4. Sore throat or hoarseness

  5. Pain or numbness in the mouth or lips

  6. Changes in your bite or the way your teeth fit together

  7. Ear pain

Prevention Strategies for Oral Cancer

Quitting Smoking and Alcohol Consumption

If you are a smoker, you can reduce your risk of developing oral cancer by quitting. Your dentist can provide resources to help you quit smoking, including nicotine replacement therapy and counseling.

Reducing your alcohol consumption by setting a limit can reduce the risk of developing oral cancer considerably. Try to limit yourself to one or two drinks per day.

Practicing Safe Sex

Practicing safe sex—including using condoms and dental dams—can significantly reduce the risk of contracting HPV.

Getting Vaccinated Against HPV

If you are under 45, vaccinating against HPV can help reduce your risk of developing HPV-related oral cancer.

Practicing Good Oral Hygiene

Brushing your teeth twice daily, flossing daily, and making it a habit to visit the dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings can help detect and prevent oral cancer.

Oral cancer is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition, but you can diminish the risk by following the aforementioned prevention strategies. Remember, early detection is critical to successful treatment and recovery.

If you are concerned about your risk of developing oral cancer or experiencing any symptoms, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with our team at Clay Associates DDS. Our experienced and compassionate dental professionals can provide a comprehensive oral cancer screening and help you develop a plan to reduce your risk of developing this serious condition. Contact us today to schedule your appointment and take the first step towards better oral health.


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