Bupa UK dentist for mouth cancer awareness month: With Google Trends showing a 110% increase in searches for ‘mouth cancer causes’ over the last 30 days. Dr Neil Sikka, BChD, Dentist at Bupa UK, reveals what we should all be looking out for, and what to do if we spot anything that could be mouth cancer.
What would make a person considered ‘at risk’ of developing mouth cancer?
Generally, alcohol and tobacco use are considered the highest risk for developing mouth cancer. There is also evidence to suggest that infection with HPV (Human Papillomavirus) can be a precursor to oral cancer. Another attributing factor is poor oral health – if there are broken or jagged teeth then they can cause ulcers in the mouth, which may become cancerous if they are unable to heal. Meanwhile, over exposure to the sun can increase the risk of lip cancer, so patients should remain vigilant during the summer.
What signs should you be looking out for to ensure early detection of mouth cancer?
There are a few signs and symptoms of mouth cancer you should look out for. These generally include mouth ulcers that don’t heal after a 2-3 week period, or unexplained lumps both in the mouth and swollen lymph glands in the neck.
Other symptoms may include difficulty in swallowing which lasts for a few weeks, red or white patches in the mouth, teeth becoming loose for any unexplained reason, or unexplained bleeding or numbness in the mouth. It’s important to remember that all these signs and symptoms can also have a normal explanation, but if they concern you or are persistent then you should visit your dentist for a professional check-up.
What are the most common symptoms of mouth cancer?
In addition to the symptoms previously listed, earliest signs of mouth cancer can include an ulcer that won’t heal or red/white patches that start to look different in appearance.
If you think you may have mouth cancer, what should you do?
If you are experiencing symptoms which persist for more than three weeks, it’s really important that you book an appointment with your dentist so they can provide you with a professional assessment.
What are the treatment options for mouth cancer?
If mouth cancer is diagnosed, the treatment provided will depend on many factors including type, size, and position of the cancer. Your hospital team will also consider your general health and fitness together with any potential side effects of treatment.
If someone is worried about getting a check-up for mouth cancer, what would your advice to them be?
As with all cancers, early detection is the key to better outcomes. My advice is to visit your dentist regularly, as they are specifically trained to screen for oral cancer as part of a normal check-up. If you are in any way worried, be assured that no one will judge you, everyone will support you to deliver the best possible solution. You should always seek advice immediately if you are concerned about your oral health.
Are there any tips and tricks that people can take note of to monitor at home, in addition to regular check-ups with their dentist (specifically relating to mouth cancer)?
It’s quick and easy to examine your mouth and everyone over the age of 16 should be doing regular at-home check-ups. Here are some of my top tips:
- Lift your tongue up and look for any unusual colour changes in your mouth. Use your index finger and press along the floor of your mouth and beneath your tongue to feel for any swelling, lumps, or ulcers.
- Open your mouth and pull your cheeks outwards. You’re looking for any red or white patches on the inside of your cheeks. You can also use your index finger to check for ulcers, lumps, or tenderness.
- Use your thumb and forefinger on the inside and outside of the gum, moving slowly around your mouth to feel for anything unusual.
- Pull your upper lip upwards and bottom lip downwards to look inside the mouth for any sores or changes in colour. Use your thumb and forefinger to feel around your lips for any lumps or bumps.
- Examine your face. Is there any swelling on your face or jaw that you haven’t noticed before? Can you see any moles that have become larger? Run your fingers along the jaw on both sides to feel if your face feels symmetrical.