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Dealing with Mouth Cancer: How Can My Dentist Help?

December 10, 2022

 Hands holding a breast cancer ribbon.

Mouth cancer refers to cancers that start at the mouth. Generally classified under head and neck cancers, mouth cancer usually occurs at the lips, gums, and tongue. It's easy to mistake them for a common sore, but their difference is that they persist.

According to statistics, it is estimated that in 2022, 7,500 Canadians will be diagnosed with head and neck cancer, and 5,400 will be men.

Let's talk more about mouth cancer, its causes and risks factors, treatment options, and how your dentist can help.

What does it look like?

Mouth cancer can present itself in any of the following forms:

  • Lumps or bumps
  • Rough spots
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Sores that won't heal
  • Red, white, or speckled patches
  • Swelling inside the mouth
  • Loss of feeling or sensation
  • Change in voice
  • Change in the way your oral appliance fits
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing

See your dentist for a consultation if you notice any of the signs or symptoms above.

What causes it?

Oral cancer develops due to irregular DNA changes in cells. Cancerous cells can spread from the mouth to other areas of the body. A person can be at an increased risk for oral cancer due to the following:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption. Oral cancer is more prevalent among alcohol drinkers than nondrinkers.
  • Cigarette smoking. Those who smoke are more likely to develop mouth cancer than those who do not.
  • Excessive sun exposure. Excessive exposure to UV rays from the sun can also make a person more vulnerable to oral cancer.
  • Family medical history. The risk of developing oral cancer can increase if you have a family member diagnosed with head and neck cancer.
  • Poor diet. A diet low in fruits and vegetables is also linked to increased oral cancer risks.
  • Age. Men are more likely to get oral cancer than women. Most develop it after age 55, although it can also affect younger individuals.

How is it treated?

Each oral cancer treatment plan is customized according to the individual case. Your options may include surgery to remove the cancerous cells, chemotherapy or the use of medications to get rid of the cancerous cells, or both.

Your team may also involve specialists from multiple disciplines, from dentists, general practitioners, and oncologists to dietitians and nurses.

There's no one sure way or method to prevent cancer. But you can reduce your risks by staying away from known triggers such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and sun exposure.

Seeing your dentist regularly can also help protect your oral health. During routine oral cancer screening, your dentist assesses your mouth for potential symptoms or irregularities.

Can my dentist diagnose it?

Your dentist can perform examinations to check for signs of oral cancer. If they spot anything, they can refer you to another specialist, such as an ENT doctor, for further assessment.

An examination at the dental office takes only a few minutes. But if you require more exams, the process can be longer. Although it takes time, it's important to be patient and cooperate because your team needs to rule out possible causes to identify the root problem.

Several medical conditions can share symptoms or risk factors, making the process more challenging. Your dentist can't diagnose or tell you in one sitting if you have oral cancer. But they check for potential symptoms and refer you to other healthcare professionals.

Their role is vital in diagnosing and treating oral cancer.

Get oral cancer screening in Mississauga, Ontario

While it's good to pay attention to changes or irregularities in your mouth and body, it's a lot better to sign up for oral cancer screening even without apparent symptoms.

The screening won't hurt, and early diagnosis is critical to increasing the chances of successful treatments.

Ready to book your oral cancer screening in Mississauga, ON? Contact us today at Westwood Dental, and one of our team members will be happy to assist you.