Oral health is one of the fastest-growing concerns in the United States. It’s up there alongside heart disease and cancer. However, one of the most significant oral health problems is oral cancer.
It’s estimated that about 54,000 Americans get oral cancer every year. It’s lower than heart diseases, but it’s one of the world’s highest rates of oral cancer. Knowledge is vital if you want to avoid this kind of cancer. Here’s what you need to know about this disease and how you can prevent it.
What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the mouth. These cells can form in any part of the oral cavity, including the lips, gums, tongue, and roof or floor of the mouth. Oral cancer usually starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth.
Most oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which begin in the thin, flat cells lining the mouth. These cells are called squamous cells. Cancer that starts in these cells is sometimes called squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer.
Oral cancer can also start in other types of cells in the mouth, such as salivary gland cells, melanocytes, or minor salivary gland cells. However, these oral cancers are much less common than squamous cell carcinomas.
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
You may be at higher risk for developing oral cancer if you:
- Alcohol consumption
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Weak immune system
Symptoms of Oral Cancer
The most common symptom of oral cancer is a sore in the mouth that doesn’t go away. Other symptoms include:
- A sore on the lip or in the mouth that bleeds easily and doesn’t heal
- A lump on the lip or in the mouth
- White or red patches on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
- A feeling that something is caught in the throat
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Pain in the ear
Diagnosis and Treatment of Oral Cancer
If you have any of the symptoms of oral cancer, you should see your dentist or doctor right away. They will likely refer you to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist for a biopsy. This is the only way to diagnose oral cancer definitively.
If the biopsy comes back positive for cancer, your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on the stage of your cancer. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
How to Prevent Oral Cancer
Prevention will always be better than cure. Oral cancer might not be as lethal as other forms of cancer, but it still has a high potential of getting into other parts of the body. So preventing it from happening in the first place is the best thing you can do. You can start by replacing missing teeth.
Replace Missing Teeth
Most people don’t know this, but exposed gums are one of the riskiest areas for oral cancer. When you have a missing tooth, the gum around that area is exposed. And since the gum tissue is thin and delicate, it’s easy for cancer cells to attack it.
That’s why it’s important to replace any missing teeth as soon as possible. Dental implants are one of the best ways to do this. They’re strong and durable, and they look and feel just like natural teeth. This kind of treatment is also suitable for preventing gum disease.
Avoid Smoking and Drinking
You’re probably already aware of the risks of smoking and drinking, but it bears repeating. These two habits are some of the most significant risk factors for oral cancer. So if you want to reduce your risk, quit smoking and cut back on your alcohol consumption.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet is good for your overall health, and it can also help reduce your risk of oral cancer. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, significantly those high in antioxidants, can help protect your cells from damage.
You should also avoid processed meats and smoked meats, which have been linked to an increased risk of oral cancer. Also, avoid crash diets like juicing, keto, and paleo diets, as these can leave you deficient in essential nutrients.
Get Regular Dental Check ups
Finally, be sure to visit your dentist for regular checkups. They’ll be able to spot any early signs of oral cancer and give you the treatment you need.
In sum, oral cancer is a severe condition that should not be taken lightly. If you experience any common symptoms, see your dentist or doctor right away for diagnosis and treatment. In addition, there are many ways to prevent oral cancer, including replacing missing teeth, quitting smoking and drinking, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular dental checkups. You can reduce your risk of developing this condition by following these tips.