You already know regular dental exams could save your teeth. But did you know they could save your life, too? They can…by helping you detect oral cancer before it has progressed too far for treatment to be effective. In fact, dentists play a front-lines role in helping patients detect oral cancer so they can seek treatment fast.
“But wait,” you may be thinking. “Aren’t smokers the only ones who are at-risk for oral cancer? I’m not a smoker, so I must be in the clear.”
Not so fast. Smoking isn’t the only risk factor for oral cancer.
The link between Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and Oral Cancer
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that is known for putting young women at-risk for cervical cancer. However, recent research also shows that there is a link between HPV and oral cancer as well. Because this research is so fresh, few people know about it.
The CDC in fact now links HPV to 70% of oro-pharyngeal cancers.
Understand, we are not judging any sexual activity that you may be engaged in. We’re far more concerned with educating people about receiving the HPV vaccine than with what is going on in your bedroom.
We hope to see HPV disappear as more and more people get educated about it and get the vaccine. For now, there are many patients who are now sexually active who have never received this life-saving vaccine. For these patients, early detection is absolutely vital.
Some adults still have time to get the HPV vaccine. Teens should typically receive the vaccine between the ages of 11 and 14. Males can get caught up until the age of 21, however, and females can get caught up before they turn 26. Next to avoiding tobacco use and heavy alcohol use this is the best way you can protect yourself.
Heavy alcohol use can also put you at risk for oral cancer.
Alcohol abuse is also a leading cause of oral cancer. If you have more than 21 standard drinks per week you can put yourself at risk, even if you never pick up a cigarette. If you do smoke, these two drugs can combine to create a deadly cocktail.
Former smokers aren’t 100% in the clear.
You are at risk for oral cancer if you’ve ever smoked. It is true that your risk does decrease dramatically after you quit. However, your risk will never again be on par with a non-smoker’s risk.
Oral cancer is not rare.
132 cases are diagnosed daily throughout the United States.
According to the American Dental Association, those who catch the disease when it’s still localized have an 83% survival rate. This drops to a staggering 36% once the cancer has metastasized.
Bottom line? It’s important not to grow complacent. You may be more at risk for oral cancer than you think you are.
Know the symptoms, make an appointment.
Oral cancer symptoms include:
- A persistent sore throat.
- Trouble swallowing.
- Ear pain.
- Changes in your voice.
- Vomiting blood.
- Sudden weight loss.
- Mouth pain or tenderness.
- Numbness of the mouth or lips.
- Trouble with chewing, swallowing, or speaking.
- Unexplained lumps, crusts, thicknesses or rough patches in the mouth.
If you notice these symptoms you should make an appointment with our office immediately! However, you should also know that in its early stages, oral cancer can quietly grow without presenting any symptoms at all.
Many dentists now make an oral cancer screening part of their routine appointments. We certainly do, but we can’t do anything if you don’t come and see us. We can also talk to you about your risk factors and discuss how you can lower your risk for oral cancer. Your regular visits to our office could truly save your life and spare you the worst of a painful and debilitating disease.
If you haven’t made an appointment for a dental check-up, why not do it today? We’ll be happy to make sure you’re safe and healthy.