April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and it is important to learn whether you have any habits that are increasing your risk of developing oral cancer and how to examine yourself for oral cancer. While you may not realize it, your family dentist examines your mouth for signs of oral cancer during every routine dental checkup. While visiting your dentist every six months for an dental exam and teeth cleaning is important for your dental health, realize that it is also a very important part of catching oral cancer when it first develops, when it is most treatable. However, ideally, in between visits to the dentist, you should also perform oral cancer self-checks about once a month, especially if you have oral cancer risk factors.
Read on to learn what the oral cancer risk factors are and how to perform an oral cancer self-screening in between dental visits.
What Habits Increase Your Oral Cancer Risk?
Like all forms of cancer, no one is immune to development of oral cancer because it can strike anyone, even non-smokers. While cigarette smoking does increase a person's chances of developing oral cancer, shockingly, as the number of smokers in the United States has declined over the past ten years, the number of people diagnosed with oral cancer has risen over the last ten years.
To reduce your chances of becoming one of the almost 50,000 Americans diagnosed with oral cancer each year, stop the following habits that put you more at risk for oral cancer development:
1. Drinking Alcohol in Excess
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of many types of cancer, and oral cancer is one of them. Over-indulging in alcoholic beverages actually increases your chances of developing oral cancer by a staggering 30 times. While alcohol alone increases your oral cancer risks, if you smoke even an occasional cigarette while drinking an alcoholic beverage, you put yourself even more at risk of oral cancer development. This is due to the fact that alcohol increases the permeability of your mouth while drinking it, because it is a solvent, which allows the toxins in cigarette smoke to penetrate into your oral tissues much more deeply than they can alone.
If you must, drink in moderation and never smoke a cigarette while drinking.
2. Chewing Tobacco
The fact that chewing tobacco increases your oral cancer risk likely doesn't surprise you. The tobacco is filled with harmful carcinogens, and no brand is safer than another. If you chew tobacco, then it is important to quit. Many who chew tobacco have great success quitting by using nicotine gum, lozenges, or patches to wean themselves off of nicotine.
3. Eating an Unhealthy Diet
Not only is a healthy diet beneficial for your waistline and heart, but the right diet can also decrease your chances of developing oral cancer. Getting plenty of essential vitamins and minerals is important for the health of your mouth, and eating plenty of antioxidants can help prevent the development of many types of cancer. That is because antioxidants protect your body's cells from free radicals you are exposed to every day that damage your body's DNA.
Fruits and vegetables have high antioxidant contents, as do coffee and tea. Green tea is an especially potent source of a powerful antioxidant called EGCG. While it's not an antioxidant, studies also show that a diet high in calcium can also prevent oral cancer.
How To Check Your Mouth for Oral Cancer at Home
Examining your mouth at home for the signs of oral cancer is very easy. The only tools you need are a small flashlight and a mirror. When examining each surface of your mouth, you should look for any changes in skin texture, lumps or bumps, strange lesions, and changes in color.
First, lift up your tongue and examine the floor of your mouth. Next, examine both the underside, top, and both sides of your tongue. Check these two parts of your mouth carefully, because 60 percent of all oral cancer lesions are first detected in these areas of the mouth.
Next, examine the roof of your mouth, the insides of both cheeks, the inner surface of both lips, and the back of your throat. Take your time and examine each surface thoroughly.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and it is a great time to begin learning how to prevent oral cancer and how to screen yourself for it at home every month. In addition, remember that your family dentist doesn't just help you keep your teeth healthy, but he or she also examines your mouth closely for signs of oral cancer during each and every visit. This makes it very important to visit your dentist every six months, so they can catch any oral cancer lesions you miss at home quickly while they are most treatable. Contact a dental office like All About Smiles to learn more.