Daily oral care is important to prevent cavities, gum disease, and for your overall health. But there is another reason to keep your mouth healthy – oral cancer.

About Oral Cancer

Cancer starts when cells change and grow out of control. Oral cancer starts in cells that make up the lips and inside of the mouth such as the tongue, cheeks, gums, and salivary glands. It can also develop in areas in the back of the throat. Oral cancer most often occurs in people over the age of 40. It affects more than twice as many men as women. Most oral cancers are related to tobacco and alcohol use, or infection from the human papillomavirus (HPV). Oral cancer can spread quickly. Early detection is key to treatment options and better outcomes.

Oral Cancer Symptoms

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), if you have any of the symptoms listed below for more than two weeks, see a dentist or a doctor as soon as possible.

  • A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in your mouth, lip, or throat.
  • A white or red patch in your mouth.
  • A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in your throat.
  • Numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue.
  • Swelling of the jaw. With denture wearers, this could feel like your dentures have become uncomfortable or don’t fit right.

Lower Your Risk of Oral Cancer

Developing oral cancer can be greatly reduced by keeping your mouth healthy and making healthy lifestyle choices. Follow the steps below to lower your risk of oral cancer:

Limit alcohol intake.

  • According to the NIH, people who have more than 3.5 alcoholic drinks per day increase their risk of oral cancer by two to three times. Heavy alcohol intake is the second largest risk factor for the development of oral cancer (OCF).

Avoid tobacco use.

  • Tobacco use of any kind, including smoking, vaping, and chewing, also increases the risk of oral cancer. People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at even a greater risk. Quitting tobacco use will immediately reduce the risk of developing oral cancer. If you live in Orange County and would like more information or support call or visit 1-866-NEW-LUNG (1-866-639-5864.

Get the HPV vaccine.

  • Certain types of HPV infections can cause cancers in the back of the throat, the base of the tongue, and tonsils (CDC). Experts say the HPV vaccine could prevent over 90% of HPV related cancers in the United States. The CDC recommends HPV vaccination be given to children 11 to 12 years old. The CDC also recommends HPV vaccination for everyone through age 26, if not vaccinated already. The HPV vaccine prevents new HPV infections but does not treat existing infections or diseases. The HPV vaccine works best when given before any exposure to HPV.

Get regular dental checkups.

  • Routine dental check-ups are an excellent opportunity for an exam of the entire mouth for possible signs of cancer. These exams are important in finding oral cancer early and for a more successful treatment.

Eat healthy and maintain a healthy body weight.

  • Poor nutrition and excess body weight have been linked to oral cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends following a healthy eating plan that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It is also recommended to limit or avoid red and processed meats, sugary drinks, and highly processed foods.

Use sun protection.

  • Cancer of the lips can be caused by sun exposure. Try to stay out of direct sunlight during the afternoon when it is the strongest. Apply a lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 and apply it on often. Use a wide brim hat that shades your face to help block sun exposure.

Additional Resources


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