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Oral cancer – a dentist’s perspective

Like all forms of cancer, mouth cancer can be a very serious condition which if left untreated can cause complications and even be fatal. Unlike some other forms of cancer, mouth cancer can be spotted routinely as part of your regular check-up and examination at the dentist. Above all other reasons this is why it is extra important that you do visit your dentist regularly as an examination is not just about your teeth.

Mouth cancer can affect the lips, tongue and throat aswell as the general mouth area itself. Sadly mouth cancer is becoming more common and there is an increase in the amount of younger men and women experiencing this condition.   It is estimated that there are more than half a million cases of oral cancer diagnosed each year with some countries having disproportionately higher rates.

What are the main causes of oral cancer?

It is widely accepted that regular alcohol and tobacco use account for some of the biggest number of cases associated with this condition. Cigarette, cigar and pipe smoking can all contribute to this aswell, with tobacco chewing (popular in certain countries) thought to make the risk much higher. Studies have shown that smoking and drinking combined elevate the risk much further than one of these recreations on their own.

The above are perhaps what you might regard as common factors for oral cancer risk but the list of activities does not stop there. Overexposure to sunlight (by the lips) can also increase risk, aswell as the HPV virus which can be transmitted through oral sex. Vaccinations are available against HPV but despite this it is thought that HPV could soon overtake alcohol and tobacco as the main cause of oral cancer.


Symptoms can take different forms in different people, which is another important reason why every individual needs to be checked. Generally speaking, indications of mouth cancer can appear as a mouth ulcer/s that do not heal like normal. There may also be patches of white or red noticed in the mouth. Some people also find that lumps develop around the mouth or throat area.

The best advice is that if it doesn’t feel right and hasn’t gone back to normal then it needs to be checked.

The dental check up and finding oral cancer

As alluded to, when you visit your dentist, all areas of the mouth are examined and not just the teeth. This will also include the tongue and the neck / jaw area. The one benefit of visiting a dentist for this is that they can often see things in places which we simply can’t inside our own mouths.

What if something is found?

If your dentist suspects that something isn’t right then they will likely refer you to a hospital to see a consultant for a more specialised exam and consultation. A sample may then be taken to be assessed to see what (if any) problem exists. Further tests will determine what treatment may be necessary.

Like with many health problems early detection is key and finding oral cancer quickly can mean a healthy and normal return to life after treatment has been completed. Next time you visit your dentist remember that it is more than just about your teeth. If you don’t regularly go to a dentist, this article provides a good reason why you should.

To talk to us about any aspect of dentistry, visit our contact us page now.

Get in touch with us today on 01827 664 35