April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, a time focused on raising awareness of cancer of the mouth. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 53,000 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in 2020.
At Weaver, Reckner & Reinhart Dental Associates, we recognize that the first step in prevention is awareness. Given the situation that we are in currently with the COVID-19 restrictions, although we are not able to see you for your regular hygiene visits until further notice, this is a good time for you to increase your dental health awareness. Let us help you gain a better understanding of this disease, what it looks like, and how it can be prevented or caught early with an oral cancer screening.
What Is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is a broad term that refers to any cancer that begins around the mouth. This type of cancer can affect:
- Soft and hard palate of the mouth
- Floor of the mouth
Learn the Risk Factors
Tobacco and alcohol use are among the top risk factors associated with oral cancer. However, even if you do not smoke or drink, you can still develop oral cancer. Other factors include HPV (human papilloma virus) infection, prolonged sun exposure leading to lip cancer, and poor oral hygiene and nutrition. Men are twice as likely as women to develop oral cancer, and people over the age of 45 are also at an increased risk.
Recognize the Symptoms
Not everyone with the risk factors will get oral cancer, and some people with none of the risk factors could still develop it. This is why it’s so important to be able to recognize the symptoms when they appear. These include:
- Sore throat or feeling like something is stuck at the back of your throat
- A sore or irritation around your face, mouth, or neck that has not healed after 2 weeks
- Difficulty swallowing, chewing, or moving your jaw or tongue
- Numbness, tenderness, or loss of sensation around the mouth, face, or neck
- Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
- Red or white patches in your mouth
- Bumps, swollen areas, lumps inside the mouth or on the gums or lips
Early Detection Saves Lives
The earlier oral cancer is caught and treated, the better the rate of survival. Those who have one or more of the risk factors should consider getting regular health screenings, which can detect oral cancer before any of the above symptoms appear.
When oral and throat cancer is detected early, there is a much higher risk of surviving without serious long-term effects. Many of these cancers can be found early when they are still small with a routine screening exam by a dentist. At Weaver, Reckner & Reinhart Dental Associates, “an oral cancer screening is a quick and painless part of your ordinary dental examination,” says Dr. John Reckner, D.M.D., M.A.G.D. “Although we perform oral cancer screenings all year long, in April we make sure that we educate our patients on what to look for and how to prevent it.”
What can you do between visits?
- Reduce your lifestyle-related risk factors. These include smoking, drinking alcohol, sun exposure, a diet low in vegetables and fruit, and poor oral health.
- Be aware of other risk factors, including a history of other cancers, HPV infection, a weakened immune system, and oral Lichen Planus.
- Watch out for these signs: mouth sores that don’t clear up within 14 days, mouth pain, thickening of the cheek lining, loose teeth, ill-fitting dentures, loss of sensation in the lips or cheeks, voice changes, bleeding in the mouth.
During these uncertain and difficult times, our dentists in Souderton and Harleysville want to reassure you that your health is our top priority. As soon as we are able to begin seeing our patients again, we will maintain the same level of high-quality care that you have come to expect from our practice. In the meantime, it’s important to perform oral self exams every month. Tilt your head back and using a mirror and a bright light be sure to check your gums, the inside of your lips, lining of your cheeks, back of your throat, and the roof and floor of your mouth. Check for suspicious patches, sores, inflammation, or other changes.
Cancer of the mouth can affect anyone, regardless of age and smoking or drinking habits. We at Weaver, Reckner & Reinhart Dental Associates look forward to seeing you again soon in either our Harleysville or Souderton location for your routine oral cancer screening. You can learn more about our office and other services, including orthodontics, dental implants and cosmetic dentistry by browsing our website. If you are having a true dental emergency, you can contact one of our offices at 215-486-1649 or 215-486-1652.