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How Seeing Your Dentist Could Save Your Life

Posted in Personal Health 04 Nov, 2015

We know it's important to see the dentist because toothache is even more painful than standing on Lego, but it's not just tear-inducing pain your dentist deals with - they also check for mouth cancer.

The folks behind Mouth Cancer Action Month are not happy about all you dentist-avoiders so pin back your ears - this could save your life.

What is Mouth Cancer?

Mouth cancer is when the cells in your mouth change. When it's left unattended it can be fatal. This type of cancer has grown by a third in the past ten years and experts predict it will only get worse.

What Are The Causes?

Anyone can develop mouth cancer but these are the main risk factors:

Tobacco

Inhaling smoke and chewing tobacco is bad news for your mouth because two thirds of mouth cancer cases are caused by tobacco. If you want to give up it's not too late or too hard. There's plenty of support out there.

Be aware of passive smoking too. Inhaling second-hand smoke ups your risk of mouth cancer by 87% compared to those who are not poisoned by their family and friends (sorry - it's a real bug-bear of mine).

Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption is also related to mouth cancer. Don't panic, that's excessive alcohol, not a few glasses of wine each week. When coupled with tobacco use, excessive drinkers increase their risk of mouth cancer by 30 times.

HPV

Human Papilloma Virus is a big risk factor for mouth cancer. Experts think it'll become the number one cause of mouth cancer in the next decade, toppling tobacco from its nicotine-stained perch.

HPV is spread through sexual contact so practicing safe sex will help reduce the risk. I won't suggest you have less oral sex because you probably think you don't get enough as it is. Just stick to one partner to reduce exposure, and/or make use of barrier contraceptive methods.

Poor Diet

This is interesting. As expected, fruit and vegetables reduce your risk of mouth cancer by 48% and 34% respectively, but so does caffeinated coffee by a whopping 39%. I don't take sugar, thanks.

Sun Exposure

Your lips are skin and will burn in the sun. Slap on the sunscreen all year round.

What Are The Symptoms?

  • Ulcers that don't heal within three weeks
  • Red and white patches in the mouth
  • Lumps and swellings in the head and neck areas

These symptoms can occur on the tongue, cheeks, gums and lips. If you have any of these symptoms see your doctor or dentist right away. Early detection is important because when caught quickly the survival rate is very good.

How To Prevent Mouth Cancer

If you smoke or chew tobacco, now is the time to stop. Cut down on alcohol, eat lots of fruit and veggies, drink a few cups of coffee and see the dentist regularly. That's not a big ask to avoid mouth cancer is it?

Your local dentist's location and information about NHS charges are online so get Googling. 1800 people die every year in the UK from mouth cancer, so don't just say you'll do it later. Book your appointment now. Or get your mum to do it for you.

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