Neglecting your oral health could lead to more serious problems than tooth decay.
Good oral health care should, of course, be ongoing and requires us to be diligent in our teeth cleaning and general oral health habits. For most patients this is probably carried out because they want to avoid having to have a tooth filled or even extracted because of tooth decay.
Gum disease too, with its associated smelly breath, can also be prevented in this way. However, there is a more serious issue that diligent oral health care can help to prevent as well, and one that is growing.
Oral, or mouth, cancer is diagnosed in around 7000 people in the UK each year. Although this represents only around 2% of all cancers that are diagnosed, for those who are affected by it, these small numbers count for little and it can have a devastating impact on their life. Largely though, it is preventable, and where it does occur, can usually be more successfully treated if detected early on.
The role of Bradley and Partners Dental and Implant Clinic in the prevention of oral cancer is twofold. Firstly, there is our educational role. Far too few people fully understand the implications of poor oral health care, with some believing that if they don’t look after their teeth, they can just be ‘filled’ and it isn’t a particularly big issue. To these people, we would have to say that you are making a mistake. Yes, cavities and tooth decay are almost inevitable if you neglect your teeth, and yes, we can usually restore these (though wouldn’t you prefer natural healthy teeth?). The problems don’t stop there though.
Gum disease is also quite likely and this can also lead to tooth loss and the need for replacements in the form of dentures, bridges or, in our opinion, the best option, dental implants. Oral cancer too, is a real risk where poor care and bad habits are present.
What causes oral cancer?
The causes of cancer are complex and may involve a number of factors such as age, lifestyle, general health and other issues. There are however, a number of things which you can do to minimise the risk of this potentially fatal disease.
Stop smoking – This is largely considered to be the most significant risk factor for mouth cancer. The carcinogenic toxins in the smoke that is inhaled can lead to problems with the soft tissue areas of the mouth such as tongue, cheek and throat. Stopping smoking is by far the ‘easiest’ way to reduce your risks significantly. If you have been a long term smoker, you might find this challenging, but finding a support group locally can help you to overcome this habit.
Excess alcohol – Some might argue that any alcohol is not good for you, but the risk of oral cancer increases if you drink large amounts of alcohol regularly. This shouldn’t affect people who like an ‘occasional tipple’ but it is worth taking stock of your drinking habits to see if you can cut down a little. Alcohol also causes a dry mouth, thereby increasing the number of potentially harmful bacteria that reside there and therefore also increases the likelihood of gingivitis and periodontitis.
The HPV virus is increasingly being noted in many oral cancer cases. This can affect anyone but is probably more prevalent in younger, sexually active people, especially those with a number of partners. There are now vaccines that can help to prevent this and, especially if you are in a high risk group, it is worth having a conversation with your GP about having this.
Poor oral care increases the risk of cancer. Given the methods at our disposal and diligent care at home, there is really no reason why our Canterbury patients should fail to have a healthy mouth. High quality toothpastes, electric toothbrushes and the increasing acceptance of dental floss use will all contribute positively. Our dental hygienists also have a large role to play in that they will help you not only keep your mouth clean, with a scale and polish every six months or so, but also offer advice and help on how you can improve the way that you look after you teeth and gums at home. A combination of these factors should help to ensure that you have a healthy mouth.
Your regular six monthly examination with one of our Canterbury dental team is important too. Regular checks enable us to detect any unusual signs in your mouth such as lumps or sore patches. Many of these may be caused by other factors such as if you have bitten your tongue, but we may refer you to your GP for further examination if we are concerned about anything. It is important to remember that this is purely precautionary. More often than not, issues we spot are entirely innocent, but as treatment is more effective where cancers are detected early, it makes sense to be examined professionally as soon as possible.
Hopefully, you are looking after your teeth and gums well at home, but please don’t forget to have them checked by your dentist. If you need to make an appointment to see us, you can call the Bradley and Partners Dental and Implant Clinic on 01227 463529. We’re here to help you gain and then maintain a healthy mouth!