April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re due for a dental checkup, now is the perfect time to schedule your routine cleaning and exam with McLean DDS. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 50,000 people are diagnosed every year with oral cancer. A regular screening with your dentist is the best line of defense against this potentially deadly disease. Here’s a look at the risk factors for oral cancer, common symptoms and how to prevent it.

Am I at risk?
Oral cancer can affect anyone, but some factors may increase your likelihood of getting the disease. These include:

  • Gender. Men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women.
  • Age. The majority of people who get oral cancer are 55 or older.
  • Tobacco use. Smoking and chewing tobacco are major causes of oral cancer.
  • Alcohol. There is a link between oral cancer and excessive alcohol, especially when smoking is combined with drinking.
  • Sun exposure. People who spend too much time in the sun are at a higher risk for lip cancer.  
  • Viral infections. Exposure to a certain strand of HPV (human papillomavirus) infection increases the risk of oral cancer.

In addition, poor oral hygiene, unhealthy eating habits and physical trauma may also contribute to cancer in the mouth.

What to look for.
Oral cancer can go unnoticed in its early stages because it is often painless and doesn’t present obvious physical symptoms. For this reason, it is important to perform self-exams about once a month. Use a mirror in a well-lit room to examine your tongue, cheek, lips and gums for abnormal changes. Contact your dentist right away if you notice any of the following:

  • White or red patches on the tongue, gums, lining of the mouth or tonsils.
  • Constant mouth pain
  • Sores in the mouth that do not heal or that bleed easily
  • Abnormal lumps or rough spots in the mouth
  • A chronic sore throat
  • A persistent mass or lump in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing
  • Jaw pain or stiffness

Prevention is key.
You can’t always avoid oral cancer, but you can minimize the risk factors that increase your likelihood of getting the disease. Incorporating healthy changes and habits into your lifestyle may include:

  • Giving up smoking and quitting the use of all tobacco products
  • Limiting or refraining from drinking alcohol
  • Avoiding too much sun and applying sunscreen to your lips
  • Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet

Finally, undergo an oral cancer screening by your dentist, especially if you have any abnormal findings in your mouth. A screening will include a thorough review of your oral health history to assess your risk level for oral cancer. The dentist will also carefully inspect all areas of your mouth and throat to detect any abnormalities that may be indicative of oral cancer.

Safeguard your smile.
Oral cancer is a dangerous disease, but it is also very preventable with regular dental exams and a consistently healthy lifestyle. If you have questions or concerns about oral cancer, contact McLean DDS to schedule your exam.  Remember, oral cancer screening is easy — and it could save your life!

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