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Talking about: Mouth Cancers

Did you know that dentists deal with more than just teeth and gums? They are also trained to look out for any lumps and bumps in your mouth that could be sinister, such as mouth cancers. Since August is typically the Cancer Council’s Daffodil Day, this month’s blog will cover mouth cancers.

Mouth cancers, also known as oral cancers, can affect any part of your mouth (tongue, gums, floor and roof of the mouth, lips, cheeks etc.) Dentists are often the first to detect signs of oral cancers and can then refer you on to a specialist for further testing.

Whilst it’s true that smoking and alcohol consumption account for the majority of cases of oral cancers, there are certainly cases that occur in non-smokers and people without these modifiable risk factors.

Some symptoms of oral cancers include:

  • A sore or swelling on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal within two weeks

  • White or red patches in the mouth, tongue or gums

  • A lump or thickening in the cheek or neck

  • Swelling of the jaw (causing your dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable)

  • Difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing

  • Numbness or bleeding of the tongue or other areas of the mouth

In many cases these symptoms may be found to be harmless, but it is important to get them checked out in case they are not. Early diagnosis of any issues generally provides better outcomes.

What are the risk factors?

As mentioned above, smoking and alcohol consumption are a significant cause of mouth cancers in Australia (60-75% and around 30% respectively).

Other risks factors include:

  • Infection with HPV (human papillomavirus)or EPV (epstein-barr virus)

  • family history of oral cancers

  • poor oral hygiene and gum disease

  • Sun exposure (skin cancer of the lips)

  • diet low in fresh vegetables

So, what can you do?

  1. If you need help to quit smoking, you can call 13QUIT

  2. Reduce alcohol consumption

  3. Ensure you use lip balm with SPF when you are out in the sun

  4. Maintain a good diet which includes fresh vegetables

  5. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss to keep your gums healthy

  6. Check your mouth regularly for any unusual sores, lumps or swelling

  7. See your dentist regularly for check ups and also if you suspect any of the symptoms listed above.

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