Mouth Cancer Risk Factors Oral Hygiene

Preventing mouth cancer and practicing good oral hygiene requires a team effort. You are responsible for a daily routine, while your dentist and hygienist inspect and clean during regularly scheduled exams.

While you may experience sensitivities that lead to cavities, a practitioner generally can determine how to proceed with disease, whether by using a watch and wait approach or recommending additional procedures.

In fact, preventive care is essential to maintaining mouth and gum health. Even if you should develop mouth cancer, regular dental exams will likely mean an early and treatable diagnosis.

Conditions that Lead to Mouth Cancer

Mouth cancer is among the top 10 cancers affecting individuals in the United States. It can be present on the lips and any spot inside the mouth, including the gums.

Like other cancers, it’s very serious and can lead to disfigurement and even death. Certain conditions that increase the chancing for developing this disease may be out of your control, but some risk factors can be controlled:

  • Age: Higher age places individuals at greater risk. According to the American Cancer Society, 95 percent of mouth cancer patients were over the age of 45.
  • Ethnic background: African-Americans appear to develop mouth cancers more frequently than Caucasians.
  • Gender: Historically, men are twice as likely as women to develop mouth cancer.
  • Smoking: Smoking is a prime contributor to mouth cancer, as is the use of smokeless tobacco. Smoking also contributes to gum disease and a host of other problems. The combination of smoking and alcohol consumption raises the risk considerably.
  • Sun exposure: Excessive sun exposure can produce some mouth cancers.

Research also reflects that about one-quarter of those diagnosed with mouth cancer have no underlying risk factors such as age, smoking or sun exposure.

Mouth Cancer Detection

Most dentists now conduct routine examinations for signs of disease, including mouth cancer. They also offer counseling with regard to lifestyle issues that may lead to disease. Certain conditions in the mouth can be indicators of diabetes and even leukemia. An exam for detecting signs of mouth cancer is painless. Your practitioner is looking and feeling for lumps, lesions and areas in the mouth that are difficult for you to see during a home hygienic routine.

“Extraoral” exams involve an inspection of the head, neck and face. This will include feeling along the jaw line for tumor enlargement, swelling and tenderness. “Intraoral” exams entail a visual examination of the mouth’s interior.

  • Gums: A check of appearance for swelling and feeling for numbness.
  • Inner lips, upper and lower: An inspection of these areas may reveal unusual lesions and painless sores.
  • Lips: A visual inspection reveals ulcers or dry, cracked areas.
  • Lymph nodes: Your dentist knows how to locate the lymph nodes in the neck and throat area.

Any suspicious areas may require a biopsy or additional examination by an oral surgeon or cancer specialist.

Drawing blood cannot help in the detection of mouth cancers. Taking a sample of a lesion can determine whether it is benign or malignant. It may also determine if the cells are pre-cancerous, a condition known as dysplasia.

Newer testing procedures are also becoming available for early or pre-symptomatic detection. While not covered under some insurance policies, the cost is relatively insignificant, especially for individuals who are at higher risk.

If you are between dental exams and experience any of these symptoms, you should schedule a visit immediately.

  • bleeding in the mouth that is unexplained and prolonged
  • change in voice, especially hoarseness
  • difficulty with jaw movements or in chewing and swallowing
  • lesions that appear for no reason — these may be white (leukoplakia) or red (erythroplakia)
  • lumps, even if they’re painless, in the mouth or surrounding areas, including the lips and neck
  • pain in one or both ears
  • sore (or sores) in any area, including the lips, that does not heal within 14 days.

Proper Oral Hygiene May Prevent Mouth Cancer

When shopping for oral hygiene supplies, look for the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. This indicates that the product is safety tested and recommended for optimum health. Other tips that may help prevent mouth cancer include:

  • Brush twice daily and preferably after all meals.
  • Brush your tongue, as this also removes bacteria and will keep your breath fresher.
  • Choose a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Eliminate sugary snacks and reduce carbonated beverage consumption. These attack and erode teeth surfaces.
  • Floss daily.
  • Replace your toothbrush frequently. Every three months is adequate, but sooner if the bristles wear out. Also, if you have experienced a cold or other illness, change to a new toothbrush following recovery.
  • Rinse with mouthwash on a daily basis.
  • Schedule regular visits with your dentist.
  • Use specialty interdental cleaning tools, such as picks.

It’s also important to talk with your dental care provider about oral hygiene. He can recommend products that may also assist in preventing or reducing the effects of mouth cancer.

Resources (2007). Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums. Retrieved August 14, 2007, from the American Dental Association Web site: (2005). Preventive Care and Oral Hygiene. Retrieved August 14, 2007, from the British Dental Health Foundation Web site: (n.d.). Protect Yourself Against Cancer and Other Diseases of the Mouth and Gums. Retrieved August 14, 2007, from the American Academy of Periodontology Web site: