Every April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Oral cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells of your mouth. It can occur anywhere in your mouth, including on your lips, cheeks, tongue, gums, tonsils, or throat. During this month and every month, our Calgary dentist wants to encourage everyone to pay attention to the health of their mouth and check for any new lesions, spots or sores that occur anywhere in your mouth. As with many cancers, early detection can help to save lives so it’s important to take steps to regularly check for anything new or unusual in your mouth and to also take some simple steps to help prevent the development of oral cancer.
WHAT DOES ORAL CANCER LOOK LIKE?
The early signs of oral cancer can often be detected on a visual inspection of your mouth. Because oral cancer is often symptomatic at its early stage, it is extremely important that you check your mouth at least monthly for anything new or unusual and also attend for regular dental examinations with your Calgary dentist, which will usually include an oral cancer screening. If you notice anything new or unusual on your lips, cheeks, tongue, throat, gums or anywhere in your mouth and it does not go away within two to three weeks, you should make an appointment with your Calgary dentist to have the concern further investigated to rule out the possibility of it being anything serious. If, however, you have any immediate concerns, make an appointment to be seen by your Calgary dentist as soon as possible.
Although not all lesions and sores in your mouth are oral cancer, any ulcer or sore that does not resolve itself within two to three weeks should be checked by your Calgary dentist. Oral cancer can present itself in various ways. Here are some signs and symptoms of oral cancer to be aware of:
- any sore, lesion, lump or growth on your lips, cheeks, gums, throat, tongue or anywhere in your mouth
- any white or red patches (leukoplakia and erythoplakia), or even a mix of red and white patches on your on your lips, cheeks, gums or anywhere in your mouth
- any thickening of the tissue of your buccal mucosa (the lining of your inner cheek)
- recurring bleeding in any part of your mouth or lips
- a chronic earache that does not resolve
- dentures that become loose
- loose teeth or difficulty in closing your mouth completely
- swelling or numbess in the mouth or jaw areas
- change in your voice or slurred speech
- swollen salivary glands or lymph nodes
- changes in your taste sensation
- difficulty in swallowing or painful swallowing
- weight loss with no explanation
(from the Canadian Cancer Society – https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/oral/oral-cancer/?region=on)
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I NOTICE ANYTHING NEW IN MY MOUTH?
Early detection of oral cancer can save your life. If you notice any new lesion, sore or spot, or experience any of the symptoms associated with oral cancer, make an appointment with your Calgary dentist for a dental examination.
At your dental appointment, your Calgary dentist may take a biopsy of the suspicious area that will be sent to a laboratory for further analysis. Your Calgary dentist may also take some dental x-rays. Your dentist may also send you for additional imaging such as a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound. If the results of the biopsy indicate that oral cancer is present, your Calgary dentist will refer you to a dental specialist such as an oral surgeon for further treatment.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR ORAL CANCER?
Unfortunately, no one is exempt from the risk of developing cancer, including oral cancer. There are, however, several factors that may increase your overall lifetime risk of getting oral cancer. At your appointment with your Calgary dentist, these risk factors will be reviewed with you, along with your overall health and medical history. According to the Canadian Dental Association, some of the risk factors for oral cancer include the following:
- the use of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco
- excessive use of alcohol
- prolonged exposure to the sun (ultraviolet (UV) rays)
- an HPV infection (human papillomavirus)
- a history of previous cancers
- a family history of head and neck cancers
- having a diet deficient in vitamins, minerals and proper nutrients
- your genetics
- your gender (interestingly, more men than women develop oral cancer)
- having a history of leukoplakia. Leukoplakia is a whitish in colour, thick patch of tissue inside your mouth.
(from the Canadian Dental Association: http://www.cda-adc.ca/en/oral_health/complications/diseases/oral_cancer.asp)
WHAT STEPS CAN I TAKE TO PREVENT ORAL CANCER?
Although it is not possible to definitively prevent oral cancer from developing, there are steps you can take to mitigate your risk of oral cancer. According to our Calgary dentist, these steps include the following:
- maintain a healthy diet
- limit alcohol consumption
- stop using tobacco products (ask our Calgary dentist for recommendations to help)
- avoid sun exposure and always wear protective lip balm when outside
- see your Calgary dentist for regular dental examinations
- CHECK YOUR MOUTH REGULARLY and, if you notice anything new or unusual, make an appointment with your Calgary dentist.
Your oral health is an important element of your overall health. Our Calgary dentist is here to be your partner in maintaining this important aspect of your health and well-being. Seeing your Calgary dentist twice per year for dental cleanings and annually for dental examinations is one of the best ways to ensure that your best possible oral health is achieved and maintained.
Our Calgary dentist has evening, weekend, and early morning dental appointments available to make visiting the dentist as convenient as possible. Call for your appointment today at our modern, comfortable and inviting dental practice located in the Kensington/Hillhurst/Sunnyside area of NW Calgary. Our dental professionals are here for you and your family. LET’S MAKE YOUR SMILE LAST A LIFETIME!
This blog post written by our Calgary dentist, Dr. Dirk Thompson, D.D.S., is for informational purposes only. It is not to be taken or used as a substitute for dental, medical or other professional advice, treatment or diagnosis. Always ask your dentist, physician or other healthcare professional for advice before altering your diet or healthcare routine. Individual patient needs and oral healthcare concerns vary so please consult your dentist for more information about your specific dental health requirements.
Copyright 2021: Dirk A. Thompson Professional Corporation operating as Advance Your Health Dental. Dr. Dirk A. Thompson, D.D.S., is a general dentist in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.