Work with your Dentist for Oral Cancer Prevention, Detection

Oral cancer amounts to about 3% of cancer diagnoses every year, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

While it doesn’t get as much attention as other forms of the disease, prevention and early detection are important because it can spread quickly once it takes hold. More than twice as many men versus women are diagnosed with it every year.

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to learn how you can work with your dental care providers to defend yourself and your family against this cancer.

Visit your dentist regularly

Regular dental checkups are essential for early detection. Dentists are trained to identify signs of oral cancer during routine exams. Make dental appointments at least once every six months.

Get screened

This may involve visual examination, manual palpation of oral tissues or the use of specialized diagnostic tools.

Know your risk factors

Understand your personal risk factors for oral cancer, including age (40+), gender, family history and previous history of cancer. Discuss these factors with your dental care provider to determine an appropriate screening schedule.

Avoid tobacco

Tobacco use, including smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes, as well as chewing tobacco, significantly increases your risk.

Limit alcohol consumption

Heavy alcohol consumption also is linked to an increased risk of oral cancer. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation.

Protect against HPV

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is a risk factor for some types of oral cancer. Practicing safe sex and getting vaccinated against HPV can reduce the risk of infection.

Eat a healthy diet

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of oral cancer. Avoiding processed foods and consuming a variety of nutrient-rich foods can support overall health and potentially lower the risk of cancer.

Use sun protection

Lip cancer can be caused by prolonged exposure to the sun. Use lip balms with SPF protection and wear hats or use umbrellas to shade your face when spending time outdoors.

Self-examination

Perform regular self-examinations of your mouth. Look for any changes in the color or texture of your oral tissues, sores that don’t heal, lumps, bumps or other abnormalities. If you notice anything unusual, consult a dentist or health care professional promptly.

Be aware of symptoms

Be mindful of symptoms such as persistent mouth pain, difficulty swallowing, chronic sore throat, hoarseness, ear pain or changes in voice. These could be signs of oral cancer.

Prioritize follow-up, monitoring

Dentists monitor patients at high risk for oral cancer more closely during routine dental visits. They track changes in oral tissues over time, provide ongoing support and counseling and encourage embracing recommended screening and surveillance protocols.