Oral Cancer has long been associated with tobacco products, and alcohol consumption. It is true, these lifestyle choices can increase your chances of having oral cancer. However, recently there has been a spike in the incidence of oral cancer among younger generations. Why is this happening? Why should you be concerned? What can you do about it?
Why is this happening?
Younger patients are not part of the "normal" demographic for oral cancer. Therefore younger patients are not screened as often as older at risk patients. Oral cancer is becoming more prevalent among younger populations. When oral cancer is caught early, it has a much higher treatment rate. Your biannual dental cleaning is a perfect time for your dentist or dental hygienist to look for any abnormalities.
Why should you be concerned?
Oral Cancer is like any cancer. Cancer occurs when a mutation in a healthy cell causes it to grow uncontrollably. Toxins in tobacco smoke and irritants from smokeless tobacco can cause these mutations to occur. However, recently it has been found that HPV can infect the gums and soft tissue of the mouth and throat and cause these same mutations.HPV is the same virus that is found to cause cervical cancer in women. The virus can be passed from person to person via sexual contact.
What can you do about it?
First, the CDC recommends children 11 or 12 years old should get the HPV vaccine. Even if you think your child is not sexually active, it is important to build immunity at an earlier age for a lifetime of protection. Furthermore, ask your dentist at your biannual cleaning to look at your tongue, gums, and throat. Dentist are trained to see these cancers and can refer you to appropriate oral surgeon for biopsy.
This post isn't meant to be scary but to be informative. I never want to be the doomsday dentist. With any cancer, early detection is key. It is important to know your body, and know what is normal and abnormal. Ask your dentist to perform and oral cancer exam at yournext cleaning. We check every patient!