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How poor dental hygiene can lead to oral cancer

Bad oral hygiene is not restricted to bad breath and cavities. It could lead to a life-threatening condition like oral cancer too.

Written by Debjani Arora |Published : October 9, 2014 6:15 PM IST

Most of the time, bad dental practices are associated with mouth ulcers, toothache, cavities and bad breath. However, in reality it can be a prime factor contributing in developing oral cancer too. Oral cancer is the cancer of the mouth that affects either the lining of the mouth or corrodes the deeper tissues like bones, muscles and nerves in the mouth area. Although oral cancers are preventable but, unfortunately, there are more people dying from this disease due to improper guidance and negligence, says Dr Karishma Jaradi, aesthetic dentist, Dentzz Dental Clinic, Mumbai.

How bad dental hygiene leads to oral cancer

In a general scenario, cancer of the mouth is more prevalent in people over 50 years of age but in some cases it can also be diagnosed in young adults too. Some common factors that increase one s risk of oral cancer are smoking, chewing tobacco, consumption of alcohol, extreme sun exposure of the lips, consuming beetlenut, etc. Add to this poor dental hygiene and care, your chances of getting cancer of the mouth increases exponentially, informs Dr Jaradi. Apart from this, people who have had head and neck cancer in the past, recurrent oral infections and a family history with cancer are also at a risk for the same.

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On the other hand, cancer of the mouth can lead to detrimental oral health. It can make gum diseases, cavities, dentures even worse during the treatment of oral cancer. Cancer of the mouth can also affect the salivary glands in the mouth that could reduce secretion helpful in protecting the mouth area from infections, hence increasing one's risk to oral infections.Read 5 ways neglecting your oral hygiene can cause loss of teeth.

How oral cancer affects the mouth

Whether the cancer is due to any risk factor or poor dental habits, one this is sure that it deteriorates dental health and oral hygiene to a great extent. Here is how it affects the mouth:

  • In mouth cancer, especially in the early stages, small growths or sores are first seen affecting the lining of the mouth or the lips.
  • Mouth cancers can also lead to the development of loose teeth that can lead to tooth loss in many.
  • Cancerous growths can damage by and large the healthy gum tissues, preventing the gums from supporting the teeth.
  • It damages the bone tissues, loosening the teeth within the jawbone.
  • Oral cancer can affect chewing and swallowing which may cause excruciating pain in their mouth and throat due to damage to healthy tissue.
  • Cancer growth may lead to malnourishment because of limited ability to chew and swallow food.

What are the common symptoms of oral cancer

Some of the common symptoms of oral cancer are as follows:

Ulcer or painless sore in the mouth that does not heal within 14 days

A lump in the mouth or neck

Difficult or painful chewing or swallowing

Thickening of the cheek

Numbness of the mouth or face

Hoarse voice that lasts a long time

White or red patches in the mouth

Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue

Dentures that don't fit well

Loose teeth

Problems speaking

Bleeding or pain in the mouth or on the lip

Flat, hard spot on the outside of the bottom lip

A wart-like growth in the mouth

It is important to have any of these symptoms checked by your doctor or dentist. Having these symptoms does not always mean the person has cancer, but because it could be cancerous, it is recommended that you visit the dentist and get it checked, says Dr Jaradi. Read Does your tooth pain indicate some serious oral crisis?

Ways to prevent oral cancer

Taking a few simple steps can help one avoid the dangers and consequences of oral cancer or cancer of the mouth. Here is what you can do to prevent one.

Say no to smoking and tobacco: Cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco are responsible for most cases of oral cancer. Alcohol, particularly beer and hard liquor, are also associated with an increased risk of developing oral cancer. Development of oral cancer is higher in people who use both tobacco and alcohol. Staying away from or discontinuing the use of tobacco decreases the risk of oral cancer.

Sun exposure: Exposure to sunlight may increase the risk of lip cancer, which occurs most often on the lower lip. Avoiding the sun by using a sunscreen or lip balm may prevent you from oral cancer.

Eat a well-balanced diet: A balanced diet is also very essential in order to prevent you from coming in contact with any infections and diseases that may cause oral cancer. Read Top 10 foods to prevent dental cavities in children (and how to make them eat those!)

Keep a watch on yourself: It is advisable to keep a check on your lips and mouth very often. This can be done by looking and feeling your lips and front of your gums. You can also just pull out your tongue and examine all the sides. Look at the back of your throat and check if you notice anything that is unusual. If at all you feel there is a lump inside your mouth or around your neck than a quick check-up by a dentist is advisable, says Dr Jaradi.

Visit your dentist: Even though you may be conducting frequent self-exams, sometimes dangerous spots or sores in the mouth can be very tiny and difficult to see on your own. Hence, it is suggested you must visit your dentist regularly.

The earlier the detection is done; the lesser will be the side-effects and harmful impact of oral cancer. It can be treated and cured but provided it is exposed at the right time. Hence, it is very important to be aware of the symptoms of oral cancer and be more careful before you get addicted to unwholesome habits like smoking and chewing tobacco.

Image source: Getty Images

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