How to Protect Your Teeth

Oral Cancer: How Regular Dental Checkups Could Save Your Life

Oral cancer is incredibly dangerous, with only 57% of those diagnosed with the condition living for more than five years past diagnosis. The earlier the cancer is caught, the greater your chance of survival, but unfortunately, a lot of cases are not detected until the cancer has progressed quite significantly. How can you protect yourself against oral cancer? Well, one important step is keeping up with checkups at the dentist.

Why are checkups so important?

Oral cancer does not always cause pain in the early stages. You can't readily see the cheek tissue at the back of your mouth behind your teeth, so you may not notice a growth or an abnormal piece of tissue back there. But your dentist or dental hygienist will see this area when they're cleaning and examining your teeth. Even if they don't mention it to you, one of the things they're looking for when they're examining your teeth and gums is signs of oral cancer. If you wait until you notice symptoms, it might be too late – but your dentist is trained to spot signs of oral cancer early on.

Is this really something you need to worry about if you don't smoke?

It's true that smoking or chewing tobacco greatly increases your risk of oral cancer. After all, 70 chemicals in tobacco smoke are known to cause cancer. But smokers and chewers are not the only ones who can get oral cancer. Only 80% of oral cancer deaths are thought to be attributable to smoking – which means one in five oral cancer patients is not a smoker. Other risk factors for oral cancer include drinking alcohol and being exposed to environmental toxins – but really, anyone could develop this disease, so it's essential to be checked.

What happens if your dentist thinks you have oral cancer?

If your dentist spots a lesion that looks suspicious, he or she won't diagnose you with oral cancer, but will instead refer you to a specialist who will test the lesion and determine whether or not you have oral cancer. There are many other possible causes of mouth lesions, so until you are diagnosed, do not assume that a lesion is definitely cancerous. Your dentist will likely recommend you have something checked out if it's the least bit suspicious just to be on the safe side since oral cancer is so dangerous.

Stop putting off your dental checkups! Not only are they important for your teeth, but they're also an important safeguard against oral cancer deaths.