Shining a Light on Oral Cancer: April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month

Apr 9 • 3 minute read

This month, it's time to highlight a crucial aspect of dental health that often doesn't receive the attention it deserves - oral cancer. Oral Cancer Awareness Month serves as a reminder of the importance of early detection, prevention, and understanding of this potentially life-threatening disease. In this blog post, we'll delve into the significance of oral cancer awareness, its risk factors, signs, and the crucial role dentists play in its detection.

Understanding Oral Cancer

Oral cancer refers to any cancerous tissue growth located in the mouth. This includes the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, and back of the throat (oropharynx). According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, nearly 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer each year, with around 10,000 losing their lives to this disease. That’s roughly 1 person dying every hour, 24 hours per day. It’s one of the more easily screened cancers, taking just under 2 minutes during an oral exam with your dentist (this is what we’re doing when we ask you to stick out your tongue and we use a piece of gauze to examine its sides and underneath). However, the problem for most Americans is lack of access to a dentist, and finding a dentist who takes the time to screen for oral cancer. This means most oral cancers are discovered in its late stages after it has already metastasized elsewhere in the body.  

Risk Factors

Tobacco Use: Smoking and smokeless tobacco use are significant risk factors for oral cancer. The harmful chemicals in tobacco products can damage cells in the mouth, leading to cancerous growth.

Alcohol Consumption: Heavy alcohol consumption, especially when combined with tobacco use, significantly increases the risk of oral cancer.

HPV Infection: Certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly HPV-16, have been linked to an increased risk of oral cancer. This is affecting more younger people under the age of 40.

Sun Exposure: Prolonged exposure to sunlight can increase the risk of lip cancer.

Poor Oral Hygiene: Neglecting oral hygiene practices can lead to chronic irritation and inflammation, potentially increasing the risk of oral cancer.

Signs and Symptoms

Early detection of oral cancer is crucial for successful treatment. Dentists play a pivotal role in identifying suspicious lesions during routine dental exams. Some common signs and symptoms of oral cancer include:

Persistent mouth sores that do not heal.

Red or white patches in the mouth.

Unexplained bleeding in the mouth.

Chronic sore throat or hoarseness.

Difficulty swallowing or chewing.

Swelling, lumps, or thickening of the oral tissues.

Screening & Prevention

Regular dental check-ups are essential not only for maintaining good oral health but also for early detection of oral cancer. During a dental exam, your dentist will thoroughly examine your mouth for any signs of abnormalities. If we see something suspicious we will talk to you about it and refer to a specialist to perform a biopsy. You can even learn how to give yourself a routine mouth exam and the tools needed on the Check Your Mouth website. While certain risk factors for oral cancer, such as genetics, cannot be controlled, there are steps individuals can take to reduce their risk:

Quit Tobacco: If you smoke, vape, or use smokeless tobacco, please seek help to quit. Quitting smoking significantly reduces the risk of developing oral cancer and improves overall health.

Limit Alcohol Consumption: Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.

Practice Sun Safety: Use lip balms with SPF and wear a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors for extended periods to protect your lips from the sun's harmful rays.

Maintain Good Oral Hygiene: Brush and floss your teeth regularly and visit your dentist for routine check-ups.

Get Vaccinated: Vaccination against HPV can reduce the risk of oral HPV infections and related oral cancers.

As we observe Oral Cancer Awareness Month this April, let's prioritize education, early detection, and prevention efforts. By raising awareness about the risk factors, signs, and preventive measures associated with oral cancer, we can work towards reducing its incidence and improving outcomes for those affected. Remember, your friendly dentists at Santa Rosa Dentistry are not just there to ensure your teeth are healthy; they're also your frontline defense against oral cancer. Schedule your dental check-up today and take charge of your oral health.

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Dr. Laura Ellefson & Dr. Kasia Marelich

We are dedicated to excellence in family and cosmetic dentistry, specifically prevention, crown & bridge, veneers, implants and teeth whitening. Located in Santa Rosa, California, the office serves patients throughout Sonoma County including neighboring cities such as Healdsburg, Windsor, Sebastopol, Rohnert Park and Petaluma.

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