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Ballston Dental Arts
900 N Taylor Street, Suite 150, Arlington, VA 22203

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Oral Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

dentist showing oral cancer treatment options

November is Mouth Cancer Action Month, so we’re providing information about the causes of mouth cancer, the signs and symptoms of it, and the treatment options available. Since the disease usually presents without symptoms, it’s vital to have regular dental exams so that your dentist can detect its presence. If you haven’t had an oral cancer screening or if it’s time to schedule your annual exam and teeth cleaning, then call our Arlington office and we’ll help you.

Which Symptoms Will Alert Me to the Presence of Oral Cancer?

Unfortunately, there are usually no symptoms of oral cancer until the disease has spread. For this reason, we recommend that everyone who is at least 18 get screened for oral cancer. The screening is painless and non-invasive, your dentist will conduct the screening during your exam. Even though there may not be symptoms in the early stages, if you notice any of the following, you should make a dental appointment without delay:

  • An area of thickness or irritation in your lips, mouth, or throat
  • Any sores or ulcers that don’t resolve after three weeks
  • Red or white patches in your mouth
  • Numbness in your tongue or anywhere else in your mouth

 Although these may not indicate the presence of oral cancer, they are abnormalities that shouldn’t be ignored. If you need an appointment, call our Arlington office and we’ll see you as soon as possible.

What Are the Causes of Oral Cancer?

Unless you have a first-degree relative with oral cancer, it’s unlikely that you’re genetically predisposed to developing it. Usually, oral cancer arises due to lifestyle habits or events, such as:

Alcohol Usage

Those who drink alcohol in excess are more inclined to develop oral cancer than those who drink only moderately or not at all. Alcohol tends to irritate the sensitive tissues in the mouth, although it may not seem like it at the time, which makes the tissues more susceptible to harmful substances like those found in cigarettes. Remember, anything that goes into your mouth will permeate the thin membranes and enter your bloodstream. Once there, it will be transported throughout your body to all your organs.

Excessive alcohol consumption is defined as more than 21 drinks weekly or three drinks daily.

Tobacco Usage

Tobacco usage is the most common predictor of oral cancer. Those who use tobacco in any form – whether it’s cigarettes, vaping, chewing, dipping, pipe smoking, or any other form – are considerably more liable to develop oral cancer. Two out of three oral cancer diagnoses have been directly correlated to using tobacco.

Those who drink alcohol as well as smoke increase their propensity for oral cancer sixfold over those who do neither.


Although alcohol and tobacco usage are factors that can be controlled, not all causes of oral cancer can be. Examples of these are:

  1. Age: Those who are 45 or older are more likely to develop oral cancer
  2. Gender: Men are statistically more likely than women to develop oral cancer
  3. Denture wearers: If you wear dentures that fit poorly and constantly chafe your mouth, you’re at a higher risk for developing oral cancer
  4. Diet: A diet lacking in vegetables and fruit increases your risk factor
  5. Previous cancer: If you have previously been diagnosed with head or neck cancer, you’re at an increased risk
  6. Sun exposure: Spending a substantial amount of time in direct sunlight increases your risk factor
  7. Radiation: Exposure to radiation increases your risk factor
  8. Specific intimate activities: Certain types of sexual activities have been linked to an increase in oral cancer

Although meeting any of the demographic criteria doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop mouth cancer, it may increase your risk, so be sure to get regular dental exams.

What Are the Treatments for Mouth Cancer?

If you develop mouth cancer, your treatment will be unique to you. There’s no generic treatment protocol because there are too many variables. Your treatment team will consist of your general dentist and an oncologist and may include an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. The treatment protocol may be a simple as removing the cancerous tissue or it may be extensive and require chemotherapy and radiation.

Your treatment team will formulate your plan based on the type of cancer you have, whether it has spread or not, the location of it, and your overall health. If you think you may have oral cancer, call our Arlington office immediately and we’ll schedule you as quickly as we can. Make the most of Mouth Cancer Action Month and schedule a screening if you haven’t already had one.

How Can I Prevent Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer is one of the most easily preventable cancers but the incidence of it is increasing, so many people aren’t exercising any precautions. To decrease your propensity for developing oral cancer, do the following:

  • If you smoke, quit
  • If you drink alcohol immoderately, get help
  • Eat a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Limit your unprotected sun exposure
  • Ask your dentist to adjust your dentures so they fit properly and be sure to clean them daily

 One of the best precautions against oral cancer is regular dental exams. Even if you aren’t in one of the risk categories, you can develop oral cancer. No matter the quality of your oral hygiene routine, you won’t be able to detect it until it has spread. However, your dentist has years or decades of training and practice in detecting the anomalies that indicate oral cancer, so they can detect it early. Remember, the best treatment is prevention, and the best prevention is early detection. The sooner oral cancer is treated, the better the prognosis.

Need to Schedule an Appointment?

If you need to schedule your annual exam and teeth cleaning, you need an oral cancer screening, or you need any other dental procedure, call Ballston Dental Arts at (703) 291-3111 and we can help you. We’re among the best in the area, so make the most of Mouth Cancer Action Month and give us a call.

We look forward to speaking with you and working with you.

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Ballston Dental Arts

900 N Taylor Street, Suite 150, Arlington, VA 22203

(703) 291-3111