November is Mouth Cancer Action Month and Ashland Dental is acting by spreading awareness to our patients and their families about what mouth cancer looks like. We are helping our patients become more “mouth aware,” so they can be proactive in the detection, prevention and treatment of this deadly disease. More than 50,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year and more than 10,000 people will die each year. While some individuals have more risk factors for than others, everyone is at risk, and everyone should be vigilant.
Common Visual Signs of Mouth Cancer
When patients ask us “what does cancer look like in the mouth,” the answer will vary depending on the person and where the cancer is located in the mouth. Here are some common visual signs of cancer in the mouth:
Red or white spots in the mouth or ulcers that do not heal:
Potential mouth cancer sores persist long after the average oral injury or illness would normally heal. The Mouth Cancer Foundation notes that any sores persisting beyond 3 weeks should be examined by a doctor.
Lesions or white spots on gums:
Medical pictures of gum cancer show a distinctive white “patching” patching that can concentrate in a single spot or spread across the gums.
Sores or swelling on the lips:
Mouth cancers are not restricted to the inside of the mouth. Cancer can start on or spread to the lips. Patients with HPV should be especially cautious when examining outbreaks. It is easy to confuse the two in the initial stages. The Oral Cancer Foundation has a helpful database that includes pictures of lip cancer and other pictures you can use as a reference.
Lumps, bumps, swelling or a combination of the three:
Anytime you find a lump on your body is a cause for some concern. If you have swelling or feel lumps anywhere within your mouth that last longer than three weeks, get screened as soon as possible.
Lost or loose teeth:
It is particularly important to see a dentist if your teeth have become loose without accident or injury. Even if you do not have cancer, you could have gum disease, which is also dangerous to your health.
Mouth cancer is not always easy to detect with the naked eye. That is why it is so important to be screened by an expert. In addition to visible signs such as lumps, sores and swelling, you may also experience:
- Soreness of the lips, throat or tongue
- Trouble drinking, eating, chewing or swallowing
- A “lump” in the throat that never goes away or a constant need to swallow
- Unusual pain points in the cheeks, gums, tongue or throat with no visible cause
Who’s at Risk?
Mouth cancer can impact anyone — even people who do not smoke or chew tobacco. There are many risk factors to consider, including:
- Use of tobacco: Tobacco is the leading cause of mouth cancer.
- Poor nutrition: Malnutrition and obesity increase the risk.
- Diabetes: Diabetes increases the chance of mouth cancer by 27% for women and 19% for men.
- Alcohol use: People who consume large amounts of alcohol are four times more likely to suffer from oral cancer than their peers. Combined with smoking, that number jumps to 30 times more likely.
- HPV: Human papilloma virus has been linked to mouth cancer. Per a recent UK statistic, HPV “could overtake tobacco and alcohol as the main risk factor within the next decade.”
- Vapes and e-cigarettes: While there are currently limited long-term studies on the risk of mouth cancer while vaping, medical professionals and scientists both remain cautious with one recent review noting that they should be considered a potential risk factor.
- Age: Risk is greatest after age 60 although many individuals do contract mouth cancer at younger ages.
How Can You Prevent Mouth Cancer?
The best way to prevent mouth cancer is to mitigate your risk factors. If you smoke, vape or chew tobacco, quitting can significantly reduce your risk of contracting this disease. Other lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, cutting back on sugar and alcohol and regular dental care can also help you reduce your chances.
In addition to prevention, you can also stop mouth cancer by detecting it early with regular at-home screenings and twice-yearly or yearly screenings conducted by your dentist. One of the key reasons that oral cancer is so deadly is that few people fail to notice the signs or recognize them as cancer indicators until it has progressed to a more destructive stage. Check your mouth once per month, looking carefully for the signs we’ve shared in this article. When in doubt, call your dentist! They can help you determine if you need to be concerned.
Get Screened at Ashland Dental
Ashland Dental is committed to helping our patients stay healthy. That includes a thorough cancer screening during your routine cleaning and check-up. If you are concerned about your risk for oral cancer based on some or all of the factors listed above, or if you simply want peace of mind regarding your oral health, we can schedule you an appointment for a screening. Give us a call today!