How visiting your dentist helps spot oral cancer

by | Jul 12, 2023


Dental appointments should not be for just when you have an immediate problem. Visiting your dentist at least twice a year is wonderful for your overall health because your dentist will be able to spot early signs of any concerns that can become more problematic. A routine dental visit will help spot not only low-risk problems like gums not being in good shape to possible higher-risk concerns such as signs of oral cancer.

Importance of oral health and its impact on overall well-being

Oral health is more than just having good teeth, it has an impact on our complete health and well-being that is undeniable. Bad oral health affects our health and signs of bad health can be reflected in our oral health. There are some studies that indicate that excess oral bacteria can be linked to cardiovascular disease, strokes and clogged arteries. Similarly high blood sugar and cholesterol can cause dry mouth and/or excess bacteria build up in the mouth which leads to complications such as periodontal disease. An oral cavity can be a sign of plaque build-up which means increased bacteria which then leads to further oral and physical health issues.

If detected early treatment for mouth cancer is possible but recovery can be a very tough period for the patient making eating, drinking and swallowing very difficult. For some, even their speech can be impaired as it can affect the lips tongue cheek and surrounding areas of the mouth and throat.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer is a condition which starts in the mouth or throat but can also develop on the tongue, under the tongue, tissue lining of the mouth and gums. While it most often occurs in people over the age of 40, people who smoke or are in the habit of chewing tobacco or drinking alcohol excessively or all of these habits combined are at a high risk of mouth cancer. Throat cancers are mostly caused by the human papilloma virus; HPV with the number of HPV-positive oral cancer numbers having risen in recent years. Oral cancer is fairly common and can be detected at an early stage by a dentist or healthcare professional.

Risk factors for developing oral cancer

Besides the reasons mentioned previously, high-risk factors that may contribute towards developing oral cancer include a lack of proper dental care and/or regular oral hygiene practices. Ill-fitting dentures especially with tobacco or alcohol abuse, overexposure in sunbeds, poor nutrition, genetics, a weakened immune system or if you have had cancer before can all be contributing factors.

What are the common symptoms of oral cancer

If you are not in the habit of regular dental visits there are a few common symptoms worth noting. If they persist for more than two weeks it is best to seek medical advice and guidance.

  • Red or white patches in your mouth
  • Persistent sore throat, hoarseness or loss of voice
  • Difficulty with chewing, swallowing or speaking
  • A sore or irritation along your lips, mouth or throat
  • Difficulty with moving your tongue or jaw
  • Numbness in your tongue or other areas in the mouth
  • Pain or bleeding in the mouth
  • A lump in the neck or swelling of the jaw
  • A pain in the ear pain.

How does a dentist diagnose oral cancer?

The standard oral cancer screening performed by a dentist is to physically examine your mouth and throat for signs of cancer or precancerous conditions. The aim is to detect any possible problems early to increase the chances for cure. Your dentist will thoroughly examine your mouth, tongue, lips, neck, face, lymph nodes, salivary glands and thyroid glands. If there are any identifiable abnormal cells or concerns an additional screening test will be recommended, which could include a biopsy. You will also be referred to a specialist.

Benefits of early detection

Oral cancer spreads quickly which is why early detection is so important. Because it is common it can be cured if detected before it spreads and provide the best chance for a successful treatment. The longer the oral cancer goes undetected the further health problems it causes not to mention the fact the treatment costs increase as well because when diagnosed early, it reduces the need for aggressive and invasive treatments. Late detection significantly lowers the chances of survival. Recovery is a difficult time but detecting cancer before its advanced stage may ensure patients with a good quality of life post-treatment.

How to prevent oral cancer

Unless caused by genetics or existing health complications, there are certain measures you can take to try and prevent oral cancer. Most importantly practice and maintain good oral hygiene habits. This will stop plaque build up and possibly prevent oral issues such as gum disease or periodontal disease.

If you currently have a lifestyle that includes excessive alcohol consumption and tobacco use then try and quit it completely or at least significantly reduce your intake. Speak to professionals or check online for guidance and resources to help with quitting. Also, avoid second hand smoke as much as possible.

Really focus on your diet and clean eating as far as possible avoiding overly processed foods. Make an effort to include more vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli as they are said to have cancer-fighting plant compounds that have been linked to reducing the risk of certain cancers including oral cancers.

A dental exam is painless and quick so there is no reason to avoid going for dental checks at least twice a year even when you do not have any other dental issues. Detecting any problematic areas early will have a huge impact on your health.


A visit to your dentist not only helps you maintain good dental and oral health, it can be lifesaving if any potential oral cancer signs appear. Do yourself the favour of good health by making dental check ups a part of your lifestyle because dedicating just a small amount of your time each year will give you peace of mind.