Mouth Cancer Awareness Month Demands More Attention Than You May Think

Written by Dr. Lauren Steddum

So far in 2021, more than 54,000 people have been diagnosed with oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer and nearly 11,000 people have died of the disease. Mouth cancer is twice as common in males than in females, and the average age of those diagnosed with this type of cancer is 63.  It is critical for all Americans to understand the risks and practice preventative measures. November is Mouth Cancer Action Month, presenting a reminder about the importance of paying attention to your oral health – early detection and prevention can make all the difference when it comes to treating mouth cancers.

How to Spot Mouth Cancer

The lips, gums, tongue, inner lining of the cheeks, roof of the mouth, and/or under the tongue, among other areas, can all be affected by mouth cancer. Mouth cancer can be identified by persistent lip or mouth sores, white or reddish spots on the interior of the mouth, loose teeth, a growth or lump inside the mouth, mouth discomfort, earache, and/or difficult or painful swallowing.

For decades, activists have warned the public of the correlation between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer and heart problems. However, much of the general public might be unaware that tobacco use, of all kinds, is also a risk factor for mouth cancer. Tobacco users account for around 80% of mouth cancer cases, and smokers are six times more likely than non-smokers to get the disease. Furthermore, chewing tobacco users have a 50-fold increased risk of contracting it.

Additionally, mouth cancer can be caused by a variety of infections, HPV (human papillomavirus) among them. HPV, the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease in the United States, can infect the mouth and throat, causing malignancies at the back of the throat including the tonsils and the base of the tongue.

Preventing Mouth Cancer

Practicing good oral hygiene and seeing your dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings is a first step in helping prevent mouth cancer. During a routine dental checkup, your dentist will look over the entirety of your mouth for conditions that might indicate mouth cancer or precancerous changes. Oral cancer screenings should be a routine part of your dental exams.

Avoiding first- and secondhand cigarette smoke, consuming alcohol in moderation or not at all, applying UV-blocking lip balm to your lips, exercising frequently while maintaining a healthy weight, and routinely evaluating your mouth and lips for abnormalities can also help reduce your risk of mouth cancer.

Like any other disease or illness, mouth cancer has a higher chance of being treated if caught early. Patients with mouth cancer who are diagnosed early have a nine out of ten chance of survival, which is why it’s so important to prioritize oral health, avoid cancer-causing behaviors including smoking and excessive drinking, and visit your dentist on a regular basis for an exam to check for any issues. Early detection and prevention is key!

About The Author

Dr. Steddum joined CarolinasDentist in 2017 and became a partner and part-owner of the group practice in early 2020. She opened the CarolinasDentist Cary office in November 2020. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill for undergrad and then immediately continued on to dental school at East Carolina School of Dental Medicine, where she earned her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree in 2016. She completed a one year Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center prior to joining CarolinasDentist.

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