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Knowing the Risk Factors for Mouth Cancer

November is Mouth Cancer Action Month, and we’re joining forces with the Oral Health Foundation, sponsor of this annual month of awareness, to spread the word about mouth cancer and the importance of recognizing warning signs as early as possible.

So, what is mouth cancer? Also known as oral cancer, this type of cancer affects the lips, tongue, cheeks, and throat, and kills thousands of Americans every year. Most mouth cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Mouth cancer isn’t always easy to detect, but there are several red flags to look for:

  • White or red patches in the mouth
  • Unusual lumps or swellings
  • Painless mouth ulcers that don’t heal normally

Here are some of the risk factors proven to play a big role in contracting mouth cancer:

  • Tobacco – Most mouth cancer cases are a result of smoking and tobacco use. The cigarette has thousands of chemicals, and smoking damages cells and can turn them cancerous. Smokers are three times more likely than non-smokers to develop mouth cancer (and seven times more likely to be diagnosed with throat cancer).
  • Alcohol – Drinking alcohol to excess is associated with around one-third of all mouth cancer cases. Smoking and drinking alcohol to excess increases the risk of mouth cancer by up to 30 times.
  • Diet – Poor diet causes up to half of all mouth cancer cases. Fruits, vegetables, and plenty of vitamins A, C, and E in the diet help protect against mouth cancer.
  • Chewing tobacco – Smokeless tobacco has twice as much nicotine as the average cigarette. It causes problems for the heart and it increases the risk of mouth cancer by up to four times.
  • Human Papillomavirus – This virus can cause infections that lead to abnormal tissue growth and other cell changes, which can cause cancer.
  • Environmental – Secondhand smoke in the home or at work puts people at risk for mouth cancer.

Early detection and treatment can make all the difference when it comes to mouth cancer. You should visit your dentist on a regular basis, even if you wear dental implants or dentures and especially if you smoke or drink alcohol. Always pay attention to changes in your mouth—from roof to floor, on the inside of your cheeks, on your tongue, and on your lips—and call your dentist right away if you notice persistent sores or ulcers.

Bergen Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery is proud to support Mouth Cancer Action Month. If you have concerns about your mouth, call your dentist right away. Learn more about this campaign at