Did you know that November is Mouth Cancer Action Month? With this in mind, it’s the perfect time for us to shed some light on the importance of oral cancer screening during regular dental check-ups. While visiting the dentist is usually associated with teeth cleaning to ensure a healthy smile, your dental appointment also plays a vital role in protecting your overall health.
Oral Cancer – The Facts
According to the 2022 State of Mouth Cancer Report, almost 9 in 10 (88%) UK adults have now heard of mouth cancer – that’s the good news.
The bad news is that awareness of the signs, symptoms and risk factors is extremely poor. So much so, that only 17% of UK adults are aware of the major signs and symptoms of oral cancer and only 9% are aware of the major risk factors for oral cancer.
What’s even more disconcerting is that while most cancers are on the decrease, mouth cancer continues to rise at an alarming rate. In fact, oral cancer is now the 6th most common cancer worldwide. In 2021, in the UK alone, 3034 people lost their lives to the disease.
Like all health concerns, the earlier a problem is detected, the easier it is to tackle – and mouth cancer is no exception. Your dentist is your first line of defence when it comes to spotting the early warning signs of cancer.
Why early diagnosis of oral cancer is so important
- Early detection means better survival – There’s a 90% chance of a person with early cancer being cured whereas the odds are reduced to less than 25% when the cancer is advanced.
- Early diagnosis equates to a better quality of life – When caught in the early stages, oral cancer can usually be removed with a simple operation. Surgery is likely to be more disfiguring for patients with advanced cancer. Ultimately this affects their ability to speak and swallow and they’re more likely to require radiography which can decrease life expectancy.
- Saves money – Early diagnosis saves the NHS money. Advanced cancer treatment is three times more expensive than for early cancer.
The warning signs of oral cancer
There are several signs and symptoms to be aware of with the most common being ulcers that are present for three weeks or more. Other symptoms include:
- Red patches
- White patches
- Speckled red and white patches
- Lumps on the lips or in the mouth
- Unexplained pain or bleeding
- Lumps in the neck
Where does oral cancer occur?
While oral cancer can present anywhere in the mouth, there are a few areas where it is most common:
- The sides of the tongue
- The undersurface of the tongue
- The area around the site of the lower wisdom teeth
- The floor of the mouth
Oral cancer risk factors
Men are almost three times more likely than women to get oral cancer but don’t forget anyone can get the disease. Strong risk factors associated with oral cancer include:
- Previous or current cigarette smoking
- High alcohol consumption
- Using betel quid (gutkha)
- Age, poor diet and exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV) are all associated risks.
We’ve got your back
Here at Foxbury Dental, we take patient health very seriously and perform dozens of visual oral cancer screenings every week. Indeed, checking for mouth cancer is a routine part of every full dental examination.
During the examination, our dentist will look inside your mouth checking for red or white patches or sores. They will also feel the tissues with a gloved hand looking for lumps or other abnormalities. Finally, your head, neck, mouth and jawline will be examined for swelling, pain, numbness or tenderness that could indicate something is wrong. The examination only takes a few minutes but it could be life-saving.
There is a strict 14-day referral scheme throughout the UK for suspected cancer, and wherever possible we refer patients to their local hospital on the same day if we detect anything of concern.
Can I prevent oral cancer?
When it comes to your health, you play a vital role. Here are 3 steps you can take:
Schedule regular dental appointments – Don’t be tempted to skip dental appointments. They’re not just about your teeth – they play an important role in your overall health.
Share your history – Talk to your dentist about any risk factors or changes in your oral health such as persistent mouth ulcers, sores, or lumps or difficulty in swallowing or speaking.
Be informed – Find out more about oral cancer risk factors and take steps to lower your risk such as giving up smoking and moderating your alcohol consumption.
Remember, your dentist is your partner in maintaining a healthy mouth and body. So, this Mouth Cancer Action Month, make it a point to get screened at your next dental appointment. It’s a simple step that could potentially save your life.
Together, we can raise awareness about oral cancer and the importance of early detection.
Be Mouth Aware
Don’t wait – schedule your next dental checkup today and take a proactive step towards better health. Your smile and your well-being are worth it!