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Doctor's oral hygiene tips and tricks to prevent cavities and oral cancer

Brushing teeth and flossing gums are the pillars of oral hygiene we all grew up with, and with just cause! It is well documented that heathy teeth and gums are an important part of a person’s overall health. In addition to the prevention of cavities and gum disease, and just as important, is the prevention, early detection, and treatment of oral cavity (mouth) and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers. 

Like many other cancer types, there are some things you can do to help lower your risk of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers, including:

  • Avoid tobacco and alcohol consumption– Use of tobacco and alcohol consumption are the most important risk factors for oral and oropharyngeal cancers. Making a lifestyle change that includes smoking cessation and limiting alcohol consumption helps reduce the risk of these cancers.
  • Avoid human papillomavirus (HPV) infection– Get the HPV vaccine. HPV infection of the mouth and throat may increase risk for oral and oropharyngeal cancers. Receiving the HPV vaccine before exposure may reduce the risk of infection and may lower the incidence of oral and oropharyngeal cancers.
  • Reduce/limit exposure to ultraviolet light– This is an avoidable risk factor for cancer of the lips. Wear lip balm containing a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
  • Eat healthfully and maintain a healthy weight– Participating in a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight helps lower the risk of oral and oropharyngeal cancers. 
  • Maintain regular oral hygiene checkups– Dentists are trained to spot areas of irregularity in our mouths. They may be able to help identify areas of concern and refer you to the appropriate care provider for further evaluation, which may include a biopsy. 

As with any other cancer, early detection is key. Some of the more common signs and symptoms of oral and oropharyngeal cancers may include, but are not limited to: 

  • A persistent sore on the lip or in the mouth 
  • Persistent pain in the mouth 
  • A lump or thickening in the lips, mouth, or cheek
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth
  • Persistent sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in your throat 
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Numbness in any area of the mouth
  • Changes to your voice
  • Lump or mass in your neck or the back of your throat
  • Once comfortable dentures that begin to fit poorly
  • Loose teeth or pain around the teeth

If you have experienced any of these symptoms for longer than two weeks, it’s important to make an appointment to see a doctor or dentist. Even if the cause is not oral or oropharyngeal cancer, it’s vital that the cause is determined, and that treatment begins without delay.


2023 09 01

By: Atif Cheema, MD, Ear Nose and Throat (ENT)

Locations: Memorial Villages Campus, Springwoods Village Campus, Berthelsen Main Campus

He sees patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Downtown Clinic, 1200 McKinney St.

For appointments, call the 24/7 Contact Center at 713-442-0000.