Brush Up On The Facts for Oral Cancer Awareness Month

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, which makes now a good time to explore the connection between dental care and this cancer of the mouth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an estimated 30,000 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed each year, resulting in nearly 8,000 deaths. And, five years after being diagnosed with this disease, only about 50 percent of patients are still alive.

The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) states that individuals should be visiting the dentist every six months. These visits not only serve to check for cavities, gum disease and other dental issues, but dentists can also diagnose conditions like oral cancer. AGD spokesperson Seung-Hee Rhee, D.D.S., recommends that people ask their dentist about receiving an oral cancer screening.

According to Colgate’s Oral Health and Resource Center, Oral cancer can be difficult to self-diagnose, but there are symptoms you can look for:

  • A sore on the lips, gums, or inside of your mouth that bleeds easily and doesn’t heal
  • A lump or thickening in the cheek that you can feel with your tongue
  • Loss of feeling or numbness in any part of your mouth
  • White or red patches on the gums, tongue or inside of mouth
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing food
  • Soreness or unexplained pain in your mouth, or feeling that something is caught in your throat with no known cause
  • Swelling of the jaw causing dentures to fit poorly
  • Change in voice

If oral cancer is not diagnosed or treated in the early stages, it can be fatal. Furthermore, advanced stage treatment for this disease can be quite extensive and lead to permanent facial disfigurement.

“Early detection is key to increasing the survival rate for cancers of the oral cavity,” says Rhee. “In addition to brushing and flossing your teeth twice daily, scheduling two visits with your general dentist each year helps to ensure that any concerns are caught early on.”

While the exact cause of oral cancer is unknown, smoking and poor dental hygiene may increase a person’s risk of this disease, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Furthermore, the human papilloma virus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., has also been associated with an increased risk of oral cancer.

Do you know someone who has had oral cancer? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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