Oral Cancer: Causes and Prevention

Oral cancer might not always be top of mind when thinking about your health, yet it’s an important topic worth your attention. Perhaps you have noticed something amiss in your mouth or are helping someone else take care of theirs. In our Greenspoint, Houston, community, we witness the real, human impact of this disease—how it can suddenly transform lives and bring unforeseen challenges. As your local dental practice, we’re not just here to treat; we’re here to care, to educate, and to stand with you in the fight against oral cancer.


We understand the anxiety that comes with unknown symptoms or the fear that follows a diagnosis. That’s why we’re passionate about providing you with the knowledge you need to detect oral cancer early when it’s most treatable. Our message is clear: regular screenings are your best defense. Let’s embark on this crucial journey together. Your health, your confidence, and your well-being are worth fighting for.

In the following sections, we’ll navigate through the essential topics surrounding oral cancer. Starting with the early signs to watch for, we’ll guide you through the detection process, discuss the importance of regular screenings, and explore prevention strategies. We’ll also address common questions such as the role of dentists in detecting oral cancer and how often you should be screened.


Our journey will include insights into risk factors, symptoms not to ignore, and ways you can contribute to oral cancer awareness. Together, we’ll arm you with the knowledge and tools needed to take a proactive stance against oral cancer.

What Are the Early Signs of Oral Cancer?

The early signs of oral cancer can often be mistaken for benign issues, such as canker sores, wounds from dentures, or general mouth discomfort. These symptoms, including unexplained bleeding, numbness, and even ear or throat pain, may not definitively indicate cancer. However, their presence, especially if persistent, underlines the importance of vigilance and the critical need for regular screenings.

Noticing changes in your mouth, such as sores that don’t heal, discomfort that persists, or alterations in how your teeth fit together, warrants closer examination. Unusual lumps, thick areas, or red and white patches inside the mouth are signals your body sends that something might be amiss. A feeling of something stuck in your throat or difficulty swallowing can also be early indicators of oral cancer.

These early signs can easily go unnoticed, contributing to a high fatality rate for oral cancer. This reality stresses the importance of listening to your body and not dismissing any changes, no matter how minor they may seem. Oral cancer, when identified early, is often highly treatable, significantly increasing the chances of successful treatment and offering hope in the face of fear.

If you observe any of these symptoms persisting for more than two weeks, it’s essential to consult with your dentist. The prospect of finding something wrong can be daunting, but early detection is key. At Greenspoint Dental, we are committed to guiding our patients through these concerns with understanding and professional care, emphasizing that early detection and response can lead to the most favorable outcomes.

A patient sits across the desk from his dentist holding one cheek and describes their symptoms.

What to do if you find a growth in your mouth 

Early detection of oral cancer is key to effective treatment. Regular self-examinations are a good start. Use a mirror to check for any changes or unusual signs in your mouth. And, of course, your tongue is always probing your mouth for new discoveries. 

Dentists play a crucial role in early detection. During routine check-ups, they look for any signs of oral cancer. This professional screening is an essential layer of protection.

Don’t wait for your next dental appointment if you notice something concerning. Contact your dentist right away. Early action can make all the difference.

Understanding the steps for early detection empowers you. It transforms fear into actionable knowledge. By staying vigilant and keeping regular dental check-ups, you’re taking control of your oral health. Remember, early detection of oral cancer not only saves smiles; it saves lives.

What does an oral cancer screening include?

Oral cancers are indeed rare. Dr. Bosse, with over 30 years of practice in Greenspoint, Houston, has encountered just a handful of confirmed cases. However, the mouth is a complex part of our body, reacting to various factors like allergic reactions, stress, injuries, burns, and even stuck food. These can all lead to symptoms such as tenderness, color changes, and swelling, sparking unnecessary alarm.

When a new symptom appears, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s cancerous. Often, an ulcer is just that—an ulcer. And those pesky cold sores or fever blisters? They’re not indicators of cancer. But we understand the fear they can invoke. That’s where Greenspoint Dental steps in. We aim to be your guide and resource, helping to dispel fears with accurate information and understanding.

When you visit your dentist, they’ll examine your mouth for any signs of cancer. This includes looking for unusual sores or discolored areas.

Your dentist might also feel the tissues in your mouth to detect lumps or abnormalities. This part of the check-up is gentle and thorough. It’s about ensuring everything feels as it should.

Some dentists use special lights or dyes to help spot signs of oral cancer. These tools can highlight areas of concern that aren’t visible to the naked eye. If anything unusual is found, your dentist will guide you through the next steps.

This screening is a critical defense against oral cancer. It’s a simple addition to your dental visit but can have a profound impact on your health. Ensuring you undergo regular screenings is a proactive move towards safeguarding your well-being.

If something concerning does arise, rest assured, you won’t be alone. We’ll be your steadfast companion through any necessary treatments, offering support and guidance every step of the way. Our goal is to provide peace of mind through education and compassionate care, because here at Greenspoint, your health and comfort are our top priorities.

Using a light-emitting device, a dentist examines tissues in the mouth for signs of disease.

Why Is Oral Cancer Screening Important?

Early detection can make a substantial difference in the fight against oral cancer. With early diagnosis, the 5-year survival rate can soar to about 84%. For those who delay treatment or diagnosis, it dips to around 65% for those found at later stages. These statistics aren’t just numbers; they represent real lives saved. 

At Greenspoint Dental, we understand the gravity of these facts. This year, approximately 53,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with oral cancer. That’s a small amount out of 350 million people, but we don’t want you to be among the relatively few affected–not when it is easily diagnosed.

Regular screenings can be the key to catching cancer before symptoms become noticeable, often leading to less invasive treatments and better results.

In severe cases, treatments might involve significant surgeries, such as removing parts of the tongue or lips, which do not grow back. These scenarios are not meant to scare but to highlight the importance of early detection. By identifying signs of oral cancer early, we aim to avoid drastic changes to your quality of life.

Our commitment is to educate and motivate you to make oral cancer screenings a regular part of your dental care. Together, we can work towards early detection, increase successful treatment rates, and hopefully, reduce the need for life-altering surgeries.

What Are Oral Cancer Risk Factors and How Can You Prevent It?

Understanding and addressing risk factors for oral cancer can significantly improve your chances of maintaining good oral health. Here’s a closer look at what you can do:

Proactive Measures to Take to Lower your oral cancer chances

Ensuring regular dental check-ups is crucial. These visits allow for early detection of any potential issues through screenings. Coupled with a healthy lifestyle that includes a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, these measures form a solid foundation for preventing oral cancer.

Chemicals to Avoid to Lower your oral cancer chances

Tobacco products, whether smoked or chewed, and excessive alcohol consumption are among the top risk factors for oral cancer. The use of both tobacco and alcohol together increases the risk even further. Vaping, while a newer area of study, is also raising concerns due to the chemicals inhaled, suggesting potential risks to oral health.

Diseases to Be Aware Of to Lower your oral cancer chances

Viruses like HPV, particularly HPV16, are linked to an increased risk of certain types of oral cancers, making HPV vaccination a key preventive measure. While the herpes simplex virus is known for causing cold sores, its direct link to oral cancer requires more research to fully understand.

Non-Food Items to Avoid to Lower your oral cancer chances

Habits such as biting nails or chewing on hard objects like pens can cause micro-damages to the mouth’s tissues. While less established as direct risk factors for oral cancer compared to tobacco or HPV, being mindful of these habits can contribute to overall oral health.

At Greenspoint Dental, we are committed to guiding you through understanding these risk factors and adopting preventive measures. By making informed decisions about your lifestyle and health practices, you take control of your oral health. Together, we can work towards a future with fewer cases of oral cancer, armed with knowledge, prevention, and proactive care. Let’s take these steps towards better health together.

A dentist conducting and oral cancer screening.

How Often Should You Get Screened for Oral Cancer?

Screenings should happen every six months for most. Those with higher risk factors—like tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, HPV presence, or previous oral cancer—might need screenings every three months. Such regularity is crucial for catching issues early.

Dentists play a key role in early detection of oral cancer. They examine for anomalies such as sores that don’t heal, discoloration, or unusual lumps. If something suspicious is found, the next steps are critical.

What Happens if a Dentist detects cancer?

A concerning find during a screening often leads to a more detailed examination. Your dentist may use special tools or dyes for a closer look or perform a biopsy, taking a small tissue sample for analysis. If oral cancer is suspected, the referral path typically involves specialists like oral surgeons or oncologists who are experts in diagnosing and treating oral cancers.

At Greenspoint Dental, we ensure that screenings are thorough, especially for those at increased risk. Discovering any signs early allows for prompt referral to specialists, improving the chances of successful treatment. Our commitment extends beyond detection; we guide you through the entire process, from initial screening to specialist care, if necessary. This comprehensive approach underscores the importance of regular dental visits for overall health and well-being.

Who Is at Risk for Oral Cancer?

Wondering if you’re at risk for oral cancer? You’re not alone. Many of our patients ask this critical question. Let’s address some common concerns:

“Does smoking really increase my risk?” Yes, tobacco use, including smoking and chewing tobacco, significantly heightens the risk. It’s one of the top risk factors for developing oral cancer.

“What about alcohol? I enjoy social drinking.” Heavy alcohol consumption can also raise your risk. The combination of tobacco and alcohol particularly amplifies the danger.

“I’ve heard HPV is linked to oral cancer. Is that true?” Absolutely. The human papillomavirus, especially certain strains like HPV16, is increasingly recognized as a cause of oral cancer.

“Are older people the only ones at risk?” While it’s more common in those over 40, oral cancer can affect younger individuals too, making awareness and screenings important for everyone.

“Does the sun really affect my risk of oral cancer?” Yes, especially for your lips. Using lip balm with SPF and avoiding excessive sun exposure can help reduce this risk.

“Does oral sex influence the likelihood of getting oral cancer?” Yes, it can. Oral sex can transmit HPV (human papillomavirus), which is linked to oral cancers. Protecting yourself and being aware of your HPV status can help reduce this risk.

“Is there a genetic test that forecasts oral cancers?” Currently, there’s no widespread genetic test specifically for predicting oral cancer. However, understanding your family history and discussing it with your dentist can help assess your risk level.

“If I smoked years ago but have quit for many years, am I at greater risk?” Quitting smoking does lower your risk compared to those who continue to smoke. However, former smokers may still have a slightly elevated risk compared to never-smokers. The good news is, the longer you’ve been smoke-free, the more your risk decreases.

“If I work with hazardous materials, such as in a chemical/gas refinery, am I at greater risk?” Yes, exposure to certain chemicals and hazardous materials can increase your risk of developing oral cancer. Employing safety measures and protective equipment is essential to minimize your exposure.

“Is there an ethnic proclivity for oral cancer?” Research shows that oral cancer incidence and outcomes can vary among different ethnic groups, influenced by genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. For example, in the United States, rates of oral cancer diagnoses and mortality are higher in Black men than in men of other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

At Greenspoint Dental, we understand these concerns. We’re here to help assess your risk and provide the best care possible. Regular screenings and being mindful of risk factors are key steps toward prevention. Your health and peace of mind are our top priorities.

Taking Steps Together Towards Oral Health and Safety

As we’ve navigated through the critical topic of oral cancer, we’ve touched on its early signs, the importance of regular screenings, risk factors, and frequently asked questions. Each section of our discussion underscores a single truth: awareness and proactive care are key to combating oral cancer.

Oral cancer, with its varied causes and influences—from lifestyle choices like tobacco and alcohol use, to environmental factors and genetic predispositions—reminds us of the importance of vigilance and regular dental care. Recognizing the signs early, understanding your risk factors, and engaging in regular screenings can make a profound difference in outcomes.

At Greenspoint Dental, we see ourselves as more than just your dental care provider; we are your partners in health. We’re here to offer knowledge, support, and the latest in dental care to keep you and your family safe. Our commitment to your well-being is unwavering, and we aim to be a resource you can rely on for accurate information and compassionate care.

Together, we can face the challenges of oral cancer with confidence. By staying informed, making healthy choices, and keeping regular dental appointments, we can work towards not just better oral health, but a healthier, happier future for our community. Remember, your journey towards health is not one you have to take alone—Greenspoint Dental is here to guide and support you every step of the way.