What is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer is a collective term used to describe malignant cancer occurring anywhere on the lips, gums, roof of the mouth, inside of the cheeks, the tongue, the floor of the mouth, and the oropharynx, which includes the middle part of the throat, soft palate, tonsils and back of the tongue.
The majority of oral cancers are squamous cells carcinomas, with melanoma also occasionally seen.
What Are The Risk Factors?
The biggest risk factors for oral cancer are smoking and heavy alcohol intake. The risk factor also increases markedly, greater than the sum of its parts, when smoking and frequent alcohol intake occur together.
Chewing betel nut is another major risk factor. This is the seed from a type of palm tree is traditionally used throughout South Asia eastwards across to the Pacific.
Regarding cancer of the lip, sunlight is a risk factor, as most of us know, unsurprisingly, the lower lip is affected at a much higher rate than the upper lip.
The human papilloma virus (HPV) is being linked to oral cancer, and being male increases the risk further.
Reassuringly, deaths from oral cancer have decreased over the last 30 years, and this can be attributed to widespread reduction in smoking and heavy drinking rates amongst the general population. However, the rate of oral cancer caused by HPV, particularly in middle aged males, has increased. One particular strain, HPV 16, is passed on through sexual activity and is one of the two strains of HPV responsible for cervical cancer in women.
How Can I Prevent Oral Cancer?
The best way to decrease the chance of having oral cancer is to manage the risk factors. Quitting smoking and alcohol has been established as the best way to reduce the risk of oral cancer. Recently some research was released linking mouthwashes that contained alcohol to oral cancer and since then companies have changed their formulations.
It has been speculated, although not proven, that HPV vaccination may mitigate the risk of developing oral cancer just as it has been successful in reducing women’s cervical cancer rates.
Active prevention of all types of cancer can be aided with a good whole-food diet, minimising processed foods, as well as a regular daily exercise routine.
Early Detection is the Key
Most people visit the doctor when there is a particular problem. Unfortunately, most cancers are either discovered incidentally during testing for other complaints, or else they are discovered when signs or symptoms occur, which often means the cancer is more deeply established.
Most people visit the dentist more often and with greater regularity than any other health professional, with the standard being every six to twelve months for a dental check-up and oral hygiene treatment. This puts dental professionals in a ideal position to screen for oral cancer regularly.
At Apple Dental we have realised that our responsibility goes beyond the teeth and gums and as such we screen all patients over the age of 20 for oral cancer. We have chosen a device called Oral ID, which is a UV fluorescence test. An ultraviolet torch is used to illuminate the tissues, and viewed through filter glasses, normal tissue appears fluorescent whereas abnormal tissue appears dark. This is a quick and easy test and alerts us to any abnormalities which can then be investigated more closely. The test is simple, takes less than 30 seconds, and is included at no charge with each examination we do.
Apple Dental is proudly locally owned and operated with a high proportion of local residents within the team. With no corporate or health insurance ties there is no shareholder or contractual pressure to consider cutting on expenses or driving up profits. The focus is purely on patient care and quality clinical outcomes.
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