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Smiles at Fairfax Corner
4210 Fairfax Corner Ave W, Ste 220, Fairfax, VA 22030

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Oral Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

dentist showing oral cancer treatment options

November is Mouth Cancer Action Month. Since oral cancer is one of the fastest-growing cancers, now accounting for more than three percent of all new cancer diagnoses, we wanted to share this information about the disease. Oral cancer is very preventable, but you have to take precautions. Don’t be one of the statistics and risk your health! Follow the recommendations below to help avoid issues. If you need to schedule an appointment or need an oral cancer screening, then call our Fairfax Corner office, and we’ll be happy to help you.

What Is Oral Cancer?

 Oral cancer is any cancer involving the mouth, which can be the cheeks, gums, lips, mouth, or tongue. It can also include the salivary glands. Although it’s difficult to detect, it’s very easy to prevent, but most people don’t take precautionary steps, or it wouldn’t be spreading so quickly. Early detection and treatment are key to a good outcome, so regular dental exams should be a priority.

What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?

 Unfortunately, oral cancer typically presents asymptomatically, so you won’t know you have the disease until it has spread. Only your dentist can detect its presence through an oral exam and manual palpation. For this reason, we recommend that everyone get screened for oral cancer during their annual dental exam. The screening is non-invasive and painless. Your dentist will screen you during your exam. No matter the thoroughness of your daily oral hygiene, you won’t be able to detect oral cancer if you have it.

What Are the Causes of Oral Cancer?

Anything that increases the likelihood of developing a disease is called a risk factor. Most, but not all, oral cancer patients have risk factors. Some, however, develop with no apparent risk factors. If you have a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with oral cancer, then you have a risk factor. Other risk factors can include lifestyle habits, such as the following:


If you drink immoderately, which is defined as 21 or more alcoholic beverages weekly or three daily, then you’re at an increased risk of developing oral cancer. Since alcohol irritates the sensitive tissues in the mouth, it allows toxins from substances, such as tobacco, to penetrate them more easily and be transported throughout the body to all your organs. You’re therefore more likely to develop other types of cancers and illnesses as well.


Tobacco usage in any form has been directly correlated to two out of three new oral cancer diagnoses. Whether you smoke cigarettes, dip snuff, vape, or use any other type of tobacco, it increases your risk of developing oral cancer. When tobacco use is combined with alcohol, especially for heavy drinkers, there’s a sixfold increase in the risk factor for developing oral cancer.

Other Factors

While some risk factors, such as alcohol and tobacco, may be controlled, some others can’t be, such as some of the following:

  1. Age: If you’re 45 or older, you’re more likely to develop oral cancer
  2. Gender: If you were born male, you’re statistically more likely to develop oral cancer than those who were born female
  3. Dentures: Wearing dentures that fit poorly and constantly irritate your mouth places you at higher risk for developing oral cancer
  4. Diet: If your regular diet lacks fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids, your risk factor increases
  5. Previous cancer: If you were previously diagnosed with head or neck cancer, you have an increased risk factor
  6. Sun exposure: Spending a substantial amount of time in direct sunlight without sun protection increases your risk factor
  7. Radiation: Exposure to radiation increases your risk factor
  8. Some intimate activities: Certain types of sexual activities have been linked to an increase in oral cancer

When you reduce your risk factor in the controllable areas, it helps reduce your overall risk factor, so make the effort to minimize your risk factors. Your oral health is directly linked to your physical health, so take advantage of Mouth Cancer Action Month to get both your mouth and your body in good health.

What’s the Best Way to Reduce My Risk Factors?

Although not all risk factors can be changed, some can, such as the following:

  • If you smoke or use tobacco in any form, quit
  • If you drink alcohol immoderately, get help and reduce or eliminate your alcohol consumption
  • Regularly consume a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Limit your unprotected sun exposure
  • Reduce or eliminate risky behaviors
  • Ask your dentist to adjust your dentures so they fit properly, and be sure to clean them daily

One of the best ways to reduce your risk is through regular dental exams. If you’re at least 18, get screened for oral cancer and make annual dental exams part of your dental hygiene regimen.

What Treatments Are Used for Oral Cancer?

Since each oral cancer diagnosis is unique to the individual, there’s no standardized treatment protocol. Each treatment plan will be formulated by the treatment team based on the age, size, and location of the cancer. Your treatment team will consist of your general dentist and an oncologist and may include a maxillofacial surgeon, depending on the extent of the cancer. Treatment may be as simple as removing the cancerous tissue, or it may include a round of radiation and chemotherapy.

However, the best treatment is prevention, so get regular exams and live a healthy lifestyle to minimize your risk factors.

Need to Schedule an Appointment?

 If you need to schedule an appointment, then call Smiles at Fairfax Corner at (703) 997-0928, and we can help you. If you need an oral cancer screening or have any questions about getting one, we’ll be happy to answer all your questions. If you have any of the following symptoms, call our Fairfax Corner office without delay:

  • One or more areas of thickness or irritation in your lips, mouth, or throat
  • 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 don’t guarantee the presence of oral cancer, they indicate an anomaly that should be seen by your dentist.

We’re among the best in the Fairfax Corner area for dentistry, and we’re sure you’ll be happy with the service you receive, and remember, early detection and treatment provide the best outcome.

Call us today. You’ll be glad you did.

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4210 Fairfax Corner Ave W, Ste 220, Fairfax, VA 22030

(703) 997-0928