Good oral heath is not only clean teeth and a white smile. It can be the difference between life and death.
It is estimated that 37,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year; 8,000 will die from it. The death rate for oral cancer is higher than many other types, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma, skin and cervical cancer.
Tobacco use is the primary risk factor, with smokers six times more likely to develop oral cancer than nonsmokers. Heavy smokers who smoke for a long time are most at risk. Seventy-five percent of individuals over age 50 diagnosed with oral cancer are smokers.
Cigarettes, cigars and pipes are not the only cause of oral cancer. Users of dip, snuff or chewing tobacco are 50 times more likely to develop cancer between the lip or cheek and the lower jaw. Although smokeless tobacco has decreased the rate of lung cancer, it has increased the number of those diagnosed with oral cancer, periodontal disease and infection that may be linked to heart disease.
Most oral cancer begins on the floor of the mouth or the tongue. Symptoms include a sore in the mouth that will not heal, white or red patches in the mouth, bleeding in the mouth and loose teeth.
Oral heath is linked to an individual’s overall general health. If bacteria in the mouth gets out of control, it can lead to infection, gum disease or tooth decay. Gum disease may allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream and lead to endocarditis, heart disease or stroke.
The best way to prevent oral cancer is to stop using tobacco products in any form and to limit alcohol consumption. If necessary, seek professional help to make these lifestyle changes.
Good dental health includes a regular self-exam. At least once a month, examine the tongue, cheeks, gum and throat. If you see any changes in color or have any lesions that are not healing, consult a dentist.
Regular checkups are also an important part of good dental health because a dentist can detect the cancer before it has a chance to spread.