At Designer Smiles Dentistry, we are a comprehensive dental office that offers cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, orthodontics, and pediatric dentistry — but a crucial component to maintaining proper oral health is through preventative dentistry. Preventative dentistry starts at home with brushing and flossing and carries over to our dental office with comprehensive cleanings that dive into gum health and oral cancer screenings. In this article, we’ll focus on how an oral cancer screening can not only help detect cancer but how it supports your overall oral health.


What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer is a form of cancer that can be split into two groups – cancer occurring in your oral cavity that includes your lips, cheeks, teeth, gums, and the front two-thirds of your tongue, floor, and roof of your mouth and those occurring in your throat, tonsils, and base of the tongue. Both types of oral cancers comprise 2.9 percent of all cancers in the US.

Prevention is always the best measure, so an oral cancer screening by your local dentist is critical. Oral cancer causes roughly 10,000 deaths each year, but on a lighter note, people who receive early detection and diagnosis have a five-year survival rate of 60 percent.

Oral cancer is found in the soft tissues in the mouth which can throw off early detection. Many people will have conditions that mimic oral cancer from mouth trauma resulting from accidental biting, eating hard, rough foods (toasted bread is a good example), burns from hot food, or canker sores. It’s always good to keep an eye on lesions in your mouth so you can determine if they’re normal or if they’re abnormal and need medical attention.   

Oftentimes oral cancer is missed by the person because it appears on your lips, cheeks, gums, and the floor and roof of your mouth — all places that you don’t consistently check or look at on a regular basis. This is why a dentist is the perfect person for a screening — they’re trained and know what to look for, and upon bi-annual routine cleanings, they will be able to notice any changes in your oral health.

Since oral cancer is hard for the individual to detect, symptoms may be the first sign that something abnormal is happening. Oral cancer symptoms can appear as the following:

An irritation within the oral cavity that doesn’t go away.

White or red patches within the oral cavity.

Tender or numb mouth or lips.

A change in tissue texture and structure including a lump, thickening, crust, and a rough or eroded area.    

Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, moving your tongue or jaw, or speaking.

A noticeable change in the way your teeth come together when you bite them together.

Other telltale signs are a sore throat, the feeling of something stuck in their throat, numbness, hoarseness, or a change in your voice. If you experience these symptoms lasting longer than two weeks, consult your dentist or healthcare practitioner.


Is anyone more susceptible to oral cancer?

Oral cancer does have multi-faceted causes, however, tobacco and alcohol consumption is considered the major risk factors. Decades of research and reports by the US Public Health Service has found a direct relationship between cigarettes and oral cancer. In a study by the American Cancer Society (ACS) that documented over one million women and men found that the mortality risk from oral cancer in regular tobacco users is significantly greater than non-smokers, with a six to one ratio. Overall, the amount that you smoke and the length of time all increases your chances of getting oral cancer. People who use smokeless tobacco such as chewing tobacco, also have a greater risk of getting oral cancer. While both smokeless and  smoking tobacco have been found to cause cancer, there is a new kid on the block in the form of e-cigarettes and vaping. Since their inception in 2003, there is not a whole body of research to support them as being cancer-causing, but early research has concluded that they are indeed just as harmful as cigarettes.

Men are twice as more likely to get oral cancer than women, and excessive drinkers over the age of 50 are the most at-risk cohort.

People who practice regular unprotected oral sex (involving female genitalia) are more at risk for oral cancer as a result of the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is sexually transmitted and associated with oral and neck cancers. HPV-related oral cancers can be difficult to detect because they can hide in tonsil folds, so routine dental checkups are vital in this type of oral cancer.  

Other causes have been associated with a low-intake of beta-carotene as well a vitamin C in the diet, while people who are constantly exposed to UVA and UVB rays from sunlight are more at risk of getting oral cancer on the external part of their lips.


How your local dentist can detect oral cancer

If your dentist does not perform an oral cancer screening, find one that does. In an oral cancer screening — usually performed at a routine exam — your dentist will ask you if there have been any changes in your oral health. If you’ve had any symptoms, this is a good time to express your concern and point them in the direction of where your symptom is occuring. Whether or not you’ve experienced changes, your dentist will examine your oral cavity including your lips, cheeks, gums, the floor and roof of your mouth, tongue, and throat. The dentist will also feel around your jaw and neck for irregularities.


How to prevent oral cancer

In preventing oral cancer, a little education goes a long way! Educate yourself on the risk factors and how they apply to you. If you are a man, over 50, or if you smoke or drink on a regular basis, you are at a greater risk of developing oral cancer. As with any good oral health practice, brush and floss twice a day, consume a healthy diet complete with whole foods, and visit your dentist every six months.

Begin to pay closer attention to what’s going on right under your nose to help prevent and detect oral cancer!


Designer Smiles Dentistry

At Designer Smiles Dentistry,  we encourage preventative dentistry and aim to provide you with an oral cancer screening at every exam. Positively impact your oral health at home by brushing and flossing, limiting sugary substances, and eating a diet high in beta-carotene and vitamin C! If you notice changes in your oral health lasting longer than two weeks, schedule an appointment with us immediately.

For a routine dental exam, give us a call today!