November is Mouth Cancer Awareness Month in the UK (while it’s April in the US and some parts of the world). Let’s deep dive and find out who’s at risk, what are the symptoms and how can we prevent it.
1. What is mouth cancer?
Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, can occur in different parts of the mouth, including the lips, palate, gums and the inside of the cheeks. It can be life-threatening if not treated early.
2. What are the risk factors for mouth cancer?
The biggest known risk factors are smoking tobacco (cigarettes, pipes or cigars), excessive alcohol consumption, chewing (smokeless) tobacco like betel quid, HPV (human papillomavirus) and poor diet.
Other factors that may increase someone’s risk include a weak immune system (people having treatment for HIV or AIDS, those taking medicines to suppress their immune system after an organ transplant) and those with mouth conditions like erythroplakia and leukoplakia. Excessive exposure to UV radiation (sun exposure and sunbeds) may also increase one’s risk of lip cancer.
3. How many people are affected with mouth cancer?
Although studies show that the disease is more likely to be found in men over 40, it’s important to remember that mouth cancer does not discriminate. Globally, there are over 450,000 new cases of oral cancer being found each year.
4. What are the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer?
According to the Oral Health Foundation, the three signs and symptoms that should not be ignored are:
- ulcers that do not heal within three weeks
- red and white patches in the mouth
- unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck area
Other signs and symptoms to watch out for are:
- a lump, thickening, crust or small eroded area in the mouth
- difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
- a change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth
5. Is mouth cancer preventable?
The best way to prevent mouth cancer is to understand the factors that increases your risk. Living a healthy lifestyle, avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and eating a nutritious diet – these are habits that we can control.
6. What is my dentist’s role in the early detection of mouth cancer?
In its early stages, mouth cancer can go unnoticed. It could be painless and may exhibit very little obvious physical manifestations. This is why regular dental checkups are very important. With early detection, mouth cancer is highly treatable.
During your visit, your dentist will check your mouth, lips, tongue and the linings of your cheeks. Your dentist will also examine your jaw and neck for any lumps, tenderness, swelling or abnormalities.
7. Are there other mouth cancer screening tools available at the dentist?
Yes. At the Dental Studio, we use VELscope to examine the mouth for signs of oral cancer. VELscope is a state-of-the-art oral cancer screening device that is non-invasive and pain-free. It uses an advanced blue-spectrum light that makes it easy for our dentists to diagnose and identify abnormalities even before they become visible to the eye.
Prevention is better cure. A healthy lifestyle will help lower your risk of mouth cancers and other diseases. If you have any concerns regarding your oral health or would like to do a mouth cancer screening, call us at 04 395 5095 or 04 395 2524.