April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month and while it’s not anyone’s favorite subject, it’s just too important to ignore. Here are some of the facts about oral cancer: Every hour of every day one person will die from oral and pharyngeal cancer (cancer of the mouth and upper throat). Of those newly diagnosed, just 60 percent will live longer than five years. Those who do survive often suffer long-term problems like facial disfigurement or difficulties speaking and eating.
The Oral Cancer Foundation says approximately 48,250 people in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2016, including cancers found inside the mouth, in the very back of the mouth (the oropharnyx) and on the exterior lip of the mouth. Most people develop oral cancer through the use of tobacco and alcohol. It should go without saying, but if you smoke or use tobacco – stop. Talk to your doctor if you need help and kick that hurtful habit once and for all.
Maintaining a schedule of regular dental check-ups (usually every six months) will go a long way to protect against oral cancers. It gives your dentist the opportunity to examine not only your teeth, but also the inside of your mouth and your tongue. You may not have even noticed but your dentist will also always take a look at your neck and underneath your jaw. Your dentist is not a cancer expert, but has special training regarding signs and symptoms of oral cancers to help in early detection and proper medical referrals if needed.
You can also help at home by consistently practicing good oral hygiene and being aware of what’s going on in your mouth. Examine your mouth regularly with this guide from the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. If you notice any unusual red or white patches, lumps in your jaw or neck area, or ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, talk to your dentist and physician immediately. There is probably nothing seriously wrong, but have it checked out. An early diagnosis may save your life.