If there were a quick and painless way to identify pre-cancerous cells in the mouth of someone you loved, would you want them to try it? What if that person were you? The truth is, as uncomfortable as it may be to even think of the word “cancer,” thinking about it and detecting it early, is key.

Let’s take a quick look at a few of the risk factors and symptoms, and consider a few options you may have to help reduce risk. Keep in mind that no list is exhaustive, and to always share with each of your health care providers your concerns and strategies regarding your oral health.

Those at Higher Risk

Passing certain age thresholds and engaging in certain lifestyle habits can place you at increased risk for oral cancer.
Here is the short list of those at higher risk:
· Patients age 40 and older (95% of all oral cancer cases).
· Patients age 18-39 who use tobacco or are heavy drinkers.
· Patients previously diagnosed oral HPV infection.
· Men tend to have higher rates of oral cancers than women.

Warning Signs

If you experience any of the below symptoms lasting more than 7-10 days, please seek the advice of your doctor. Keep in mind that aside from an obviously sore throat, the below symptoms can present themselves in the absence of pain.
• Reddish or whitish patches in the mouth
• A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
• A lump or thickening on the skin lining the inside of the mouth
• Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
• Difficulty chewing or swallowing

Reducing Risk

Currently, just over half of all those diagnosed with oral cancer survive more than five years – a statistic driven by late diagnosis – so please visit your dentist and get an oral exam at least once a year. If you are considered “high risk,” you should be receiving an oral exam at least every six months.

Below is a short list of healthy habits you can start doing now to help reduce your risk:
• Avoid all tobacco products
• Avoid or reduce your consumption of alcohol
• Avoid excessive sun exposure that can result in cancer of the lip (use lip balm with an SPF of at least 30)
• Avoid exposure to environmental hazards (wood dust, formaldehyde, printing chemicals)
• Conduct a self-exam monthly so you can catch any of the symptoms listed above.

Oral cancer is serious business, but it can be managed when caught early. The providers at River Valley Dental are trained to identify early signs and from catching these early on, they have potentially saved many patient’s lives. So do the right thing and visit your dentist regularly, and get that screening!