April is Oral Health Month in Ontario, an important time to become aware of the link between your oral health and your overall health.  The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 3,400 new cases of oral cancer were diagnosed in Canada in 2010. It is also estimated that 1,150 of those Canadians diagnosed in 2010 will die from the disease.

As oral health experts, dentists are uniquely qualified to help in the early detection of many medical conditions, including cancer.  Being trained in medicine, dentists are able to recognize the relationships between oral and overall health.  Since most people see their dentists regularly, they are often the first health-care professionals to have an opportunity to detect the many health conditions that affect your mouth.  Many patients are not aware of the extent that a dental exam can play in disease prevention.  Without an examination by a dentist, most early signs of oral cancer are difficult to detect.  If you notice a mouth sore or anything out of the ordinary that does not go away or heal after a couple of weeks, discuss it with your dentist.

Risk Factors for oral cancer include:

  • Smoking and chewing tobacco - particularly if combined with heavy alcohol consumption
  • Heavy alcohol consumption - particularly if combined with smoking
  • Excessive sun exposure - particularly to the lip
  • Age - people over the age of 40 have a higher risk of developing oral cancer
  • Gender - men are more susceptible than women to developing oral cancer.  In the past, men had a 6:1 ratio of incidence of oral cancer compared to women.  However, this ratio is narrowing and is now closer to a 2:1 ratio
  • HPV - more research is emerging that connects human papillomavirus infection - especially HPV-16 - with oral cancers
  • A diet low in fruits and vegetables - fruit and vegetables have a protective factor that is believed to reduce the risk for oral cancers.

Prevention

  • See a dental professional for a regular dental exam
  • Quitting (or reducing) your tobacco and alcohol use lowers your risk of developing oral cancer
  • When you are outside and exposed to the sun, use lip balm with UV protection and wear a hat
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Brush and floss your teeth daily

The mouth has long been recognized as a mirror reflecting the health of the body.  With regular visits to your dentist and good oral health routines, you will have lots to smile about!:)

 

   
 


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