Dental Care Linked to Early Detection of Oral Cancer

In recognition of Oral Cancer Awareness Month, here are some staggering statistics to consider. About 42,000 people in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer this year—up from 37,000 in 2012.

Because a large number of these people are diagnosed as late-stage cancers, only about half will be alive in five years. About 100 people are diagnosed with oral cancer in the United States every day, and someone will die of oral cancer every hour.

Dentist Examing Mouth

Who’s at Risk?

While oral cancer is most likely to occur after age 50 and among tobacco users, the fastest growing segment of those diagnosed are nonsmokers between the ages of 25 and 50. This group is linked to oral cancer through HPV or human papilloma virus.

Oral cancer is also being diagnosed in women in greater numbers. In the past, 10 men were diagnosed with oral cancer for every woman. The ratio now is two men to one woman.

What Causes Oral Cancer?

Research has identified many factors that contribute to oral cancer. Whether through cigarette smoking or use of the smokeless variety, tobacco consumption still remains the primary risk factor.

If current trends continue, however, HPV may soon become the dominant cause of oral cancer. Other risk factors include poor oral hygiene, irritation caused by ill-fitting dentures and rough surfaces on teeth, poor nutrition, and some chronic infections.

Early Detection the Key

Regular dental check-ups, which include oral cancer examinations, can reduce the death rate of this disease. With early detection, survival rates are high and the side effects from treatment are minimized.

It’s important to remember that your mouth is one of your body’s most important early warning systems. Should you discover something unusual, make an appointment for an examination.

Early warning signs:

• Red and/or white discolorations of the soft tissues of the mouth
• Any sore which does not heal within two weeks
• Hoarseness which lasts for a prolonged period of time

Advanced indicators:

• A sensation that something is stuck in your throat
• Numbness in the oral region
• Difficulty in moving the jaw or tongue
• Difficulty in swallowing
• Ear pain which occurs on one side only
• A sore under a denture, which even after an adjustment does not heal
• A lump or thickening which develops in the mouth or on the neck

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