A trip to the dentist is something many dread and will put off as long as possible. Although pain in most parts of the body would lead to a trip to the doctor, when one has gums that are tender or bleeding, they tend to overlook them. Oral health is of great importance, however, as problems with the teeth, gums or tongue can lead to problems with one’s speech, the way they interact with others, and their overall health. Many fail to realize the danger of oral cancer also, which is why April has been declared both National Oral Health and Cancer Awareness Month.

More than 3,000 Canadians are diagnosed with oral cancer every year and more than 1,000 die as a result of their disease. The low survival rate may be attributed to late diagnosis and early detection can help to reduce these numbers. Individuals who see a dentist for regular checkups are more likely to catch the disease early and their odds are subsequently improved. Dentists undergo training to find problems such as this at an early stage. The dentist examines the teeth, gums, lips, cheeks, tongue and floor of the mouth along with the soft and hard palate and the throat to look for signs of cancer. What symptoms should patients be looking for at home?

Any time a lump or a bump shows up on the inside of the mouth, it needs to be investigated, and the same is true of rough spots or eroded areas. Persistent sores which bleed easily and don’t resolve within two weeks need to be looked at by a dentist, and ear pain may be a sign of oral cancer. Anyone who develops red, white or speckled patches in their mouth should make an appointment with the dentist. Dramatic weight loss is another possible sign of cancer to be aware of, along with a loss of feeling or numbness in the face, neck or mouth. Any new symptoms should be brought to the attention of a dentist, not just those listed above.

Certain individuals are more at risk of developing oral cancer. Those who smoke or use smokeless tobacco are at higher risk, as are those who drink alcohol excessively. Anyone with a family history of cancer is more at risk along with individuals who have had excessive sun exposure, especially when they were younger. Be aware, however, that more than one-fourth of oral cancers are in those who never smoked and rarely drink. For this reason, everyone needs to see a dentist regularly.

Make April the month to visit your dentist for a checkup. When you visit the clinic, the dentists will look for signs of oral cancer and other diseases of the mouth. They have the training and experience to do so. Make sure you book your appointment today. The sooner a disease is caught, the easier it will be to treat and halt it in its tracks.