April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. According to MouthHealthy.org, the ADA’s consumer website, over 51,500 people are diagnosed with cancers of the mouth, throat, tonsils and tongue each year. As dental professionals, it’s our job to raise awareness of oral cancer screenings and the importance of early detection.
What is oral cancer?
Cancer that occurs on the inside of the mouth is sometimes called oral cancer or oral cavity cancer. It can develop in any of the parts that make up the mouth – lips, gums, tongue, inner lining of cheeks, roof of the mouth, and floor of the mouth (under the tongue). While oral cancer is much more common among adults (especially those who use tobacco or alcohol or have HPV), it can still happen in children.
How can my dentist detect oral cancer?
An oral cancer screening is included in every dental check up at Kids Teeth. During your child’s cleaning we will check their oral cavity – including lips, cheek lining, gums, the front part of the tongue, the floor of the mouth and the roof of the mouth. We will also examine the throat at the soft part at the roof of your mouth, including your tonsils, the back section of your tongue and where your tongue attaches to the bottom of your mouth. The dentist will then feel your jaw and neck for any lumps or abnormalities.
What are the signs of oral cancer?
We are always on the lookout for any changes or abnormalities in your child’s mouth. Although we look for these signs during their visits, it’s also important to be aware of the following signs and symptoms at home:
- A sore or irritation that doesn’t go away
- Red or white patches
- Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth
If any of these signs or symptoms do not disappear after two weeks, alert your Pediatric Dentist as soon as possible.
What can I do to prevent oral cancer?
Here are a few tips for preventing oral cancer in kids:
- Use lip balm with SPF – increased unprotected sun exposure can increase your risk for oral cancer.
- Brushing twice a day for two minutes – once after breakfast and once before bed.
- Keep up with your flossing.
- Visit your dentist twice a year – remember an oral cancer screening is included in each visit.
- And, choose a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and veggies.
Following these steps not only helps you prevent oral cancer, it helps keep your child’s mouth and body healthy. If you’ve noticed any changes in your child’s mouth, give yourself peace of mind and come in for an oral cancer screening right away. When caught in the early stages, oral cancer IS treatable. If you have any questions regarding oral cancer screenings and/or regular dental check-ups at Kids Teeth, feel free to contact us.