Whenever a patient comes to Legacy Smiles for a cleaning and examination, we don’t just look for signs of tooth decay or gum disease.
We look for structural issues, teeth misalignment, and any signs of oral cancer.
Yes, a visual check for oral cancer is part of what we do at our dentist office in Billings, MT. Our hope always is that you will not show any signs that give us a reason to be concerned. However, if we see anything, we will let you know so you can have it checked as soon as possible.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. In the United States, an average of one person dies every hour because of oral cancer. Today we want to discuss the leading causes of oral cancer, and how you can reduce your risk of contracting this disease.
Tobacco: The Leading Cancer Cause
Experts estimate that 48,250 Americans will die from oral cancer this year, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation. Research has demonstrated that tobacco use is, by far, the most common cause of oral cancer in the country.
A study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, found that 80 percent of oral cancer patients were smokers.
Scientists have identified 70 known carcinogens in tobacco products in addition to other toxic chemicals. Many of those chemicals can weaken your immune systems, which also makes it harder for your body to fight cancer.
Smokeless tobacco should be considered just as dangerous as smoking, too. A study was conducted among women living in rural North Carolina. The researchers compared cancer rates among smokeless tobacco users and those who did not use any tobacco.
Here’s what they found. Smokeless tobacco users had cancer rates 14 times higher than non-tobacco users. Long-term smokeless tobacco users (defined as 25 years or more) were actually 50 times more likely to have oral cancer.
If you don’t use tobacco, don’t start. It dramatically increases your risk of oral and many, many other kinds of cancer. Tobacco also harms your oral and overall health in numerous ways.
If you are using tobacco, please make an effort to quit. We know it’s hard, but we believe that you can do it. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has resources that can help. You can call the Montana Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Alcohol: Tobacco’s Henchmen
We don’t want to minimize the seriousness of oral cancer, but if we can borrow an analogy from superhero movies, tobacco would be the big bad villain. Alcohol would be tobacco’s evil sidekick.
Alcohol abuse (which is defined as 21 drinks or more per week) is the second most common risk factor in developing oral cancer. Some studies indicate that there may be a correlation between liver problems that develop from alcohol abuse and oral cancer.
The full extent of alcohol’s contribution is not completely known since many people use tobacco and consume alcohol. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that using both further increases your risk having this disease, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation
One possible reason for this is that alcohol dries out the soft tissues of your mouth. This can make it easier for the chemicals in tobacco to get into those tissues.
HPV: A Preventable Problem
The human papillomavirus is widespread throughout the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 80 percent of Americans will contract the virus during their lives.
For 99 out of 100 people, this virus poses little or no problem. Most people fight off the virus without ever knowing they had it. But for 1 in 100, HPV has the potential to be deadly.
HPV, and in particular HPV16, is known to cause cervical cancer and oral cancer. While not nearly as common as a cause as tobacco or alcohol, it is just as real for the people who suffer because of it.
There is a way to prevent HPV16 from becoming a problem for many people, however. New vaccines can protect people against the virus so that it doesn’t have the chance to cause cancer.
These vaccines are only effective if they are received before a person contracts HPV, however. This is why the vaccine is recommended before a person becomes sexually active.
This is why the vaccine is recommended before a person becomes sexually active.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices‘s suggest that routine vaccines should be offered for females who are 11 and 12 years old. HPV vaccines should also be considered for females 13 to 26 and males 9 to 26 years old who have not yet received one.
Don’t Take Chances
Each day, an average of 132 people are diagnosed with oral cancer in the United States, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation. Treatment is possible, but it is more effective when oral cancer is detected early.