Who’s at Risk for Oral Cancer?

We know, we know. It seems like we’re forever talking to you about the importance of maintaining good oral health through conscientious oral hygiene practices. The truth is, the frequency and quality of your brushing and flossing help determine everything, from whether you get a cavity to your likelihood of having heart disease

Proper oral hygiene, combined with regular dental care, can save you a world of trouble when it comes to both your dental and overall health. 

Here at Popper Dental on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Dr. Marlisa Popper, Dr. Jason Popper, and Dr. Howard Popper provide our patients with state-of-the-art treatment for a variety of issues. And we’re serious about educating you on, and protecting you from, oral cancer.

The facts about oral cancer

In 2021, the American Cancer Society expects over 54,000 new cases of oral cancer, leading to nearly 11,000 deaths. Though we have much awareness about breast and colon cancer, for example, oral cancer isn’t discussed much.

The locations where oral cancer typically strikes include the oral cavity and the oropharyngeal area, the throat. When we screen you for oral cancer, we check:

Symptoms that indicate oral cancer include labored or painful swallowing, lip or mouth sores that don’t heal or bleed, loose teeth, and patches in your mouth that are red or white. You may also notice a mouth lump, persistent mouth or jaw pain, and even pain in your ears. 

If you wear dentures and the fit of your dentures changes in any way, have us check it out. Ditto if you notice a loss of feeling in your lower lip, chin, neck, or face. 

As with all cancers, the earlier oral cancer is caught, the better your prognosis. This is why the Popper Dental team is vigilant about checking you for oral cancer at every exam. 

What puts you at risk for oral cancer?

A compromised immune system is one thing that puts you at risk for oral cancer. You might be undergoing chemotherapy, for example, or living with a chronic condition that weakens your immune system like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and HIV. 

Lifestyle habits also factor into oral cancer risk. All types of tobacco use increase your likelihood of developing oral cancer; this includes smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, chewing tobacco, or using dip. 

If you don’t protect your lips from the intensity of the sun’s rays, you may also be at higher risk. 

Heavy drinking makes oral cancer more likely as well. For men, this means four or more drinks on a single day or 14 or more per week. For women, it’s over three drinks per day and more than seven per week. 

Finally, human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted virus that ups your risk for oral cancer. Fortunately, HPV vaccines are commonly administered now to preteen boys and girls, which should help to mitigate this risk factor increasingly. 

The good news is that many of these risk factors are lifestyle-related and completely controllable. If your immune system is compromised for any reason, however, have a conversation with your dentist so they’re fully informed and can better assess your risk.

How does my dentist check me for oral cancer?

We evaluate you for signs of oral cancer regularly. If we see any signs or a growth, we perform either a tissue or brush biopsy. The brush biopsy isn’t at all uncomfortable and just involves your dentist gathering a cell sample and brushing the cells onto a slide for analysis.

If you have a tissue biopsy, we surgically remove a minute tissue sample, which can then be examined.

In addition to a biopsy, your dentist may order an imaging test. 

We talk to you about your risk factors for oral cancer, and aim to prevent it rather than discover it, if at all possible. If it is found, oral cancer is treatable with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and targeted drug therapy, depending on the characteristics of the cancer. 

If you do need surgery or treatment for oral cancer, we’re here to support you with restorative solutions. 

Call the Popper Dental office in New York City to schedule an oral cancer screening and to learn more about how to lower your risk, or book an appointment online

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