Oral Cancer on the rise

As a dental clinician we are trained to look for and identify oral cancer. Although not common it is on the increase and it is important to be aware of the key risk factors as well as signs and symptoms to look out for.  151113-Mouth-cancer-rates

The two biggest risk factors linked to oral cancer are smoking and alcohol. The two combined more than double your risk. It is estimated that more than half of mouth and throat cancers in the UK are caused by smoking. Chewing tobacco will also significantly increase your risk, similarly will chewing betel which is popular in Asian and Oceanic cultures.

A third of diagnosed mouth and throat cancers are attributed to the consumption of alcohol. It is therefore important to drink responsibly and within the current NHS recommendations (currently 14 units per week for both men and women). This should be spaced out through the week and not consumed in one go. The link below provides a quick method of calculating your alcohol unit intake.

Alcohol Unit Calculator

There are several other notable risk factors;

  • Diet – a poor diet, lacking in vitamins and minerals has been linked to almost half of all diagnosed oral cancer.
  • HPV (human papillomavirus) – a sexually transmitted disease which has been linked to certain oral cancers. All girls aged 12 to 13 are offered HPV vaccination as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.
  • Sun over exposure/sunbed use increase the risk of lip cancer so it is important to protect lips with a high SPF sunscreen.


These are possible symptoms of oral cancer:

  • Ulcers that do not heal
  • Continued pain or discomfort
  • Red or white patches
  • Lump in neck, mouth, throat or lip
  • Change in voice or difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty moving jaw

The key with any cancer is early detection. Visit your dentist and hygienist regularly  so that routine oral cancer screening can be carried out. If you notice any of the above symptoms especially lesions that do not heal within two weeks make an appointment to see a dental clinician or your GP so they can be checked out.




My Gums Bleed, HELP!

Many people will have experienced bleeding when brushing or flossing at some point in their life and this will have been to varying degrees from mild to severe. Others will have been aware of this bleeding for their entire life and just accepted this as normal but it is important to act on this warning sign rather than choosing to ignore it.

The most likely cause for this bleeding is gingivitis which means inflammation of the gums and is primarily caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, which forms on our teeth. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease but the good news is that it is reversible.


The bad news is that if it is not reversed then this inflammation can lead to the second stage of gum disease which is periodontitis. This is where tissues and bone around the tooth are gradually destroyed and can ultimately lead to tooth loss. Gum disease has overtaken decay as being the leading cause of tooth loss. It often goes unnoticed by the individual as many symptoms may not appear until it is in its more advanced stages, however, some people may experience one or more of the following:

  • Tenderness
  • Swollen/puffy gums,
  • redness
  • halitosis (bad breath)
  • receeding gums
  • Tooth movement
  • Pus

The way to reverse any inflammation is to remove the plaque which is the source of the irritation. The key to this is a good home care regime. I covered some of the basic steps to good brushing techniques in my previous blog Back to Basics: Brush up on your skills but to recap you need to brush for two minutes twice a day brushing all tooth surfaces as well as where the tooth and gum meet. A small and medium textured toothbrush head is best.

Your toothbrush cannot reach the areas between your teeth so these need to be cleaned with additional aids such as floss for tighter spaces and interdental brushes for larger gaps, this is known as interdental cleaning.

Mouthwashes are often what people reach for first when they notice bleeding, especially with hard hitting marketing campaigns for products such as Corsodyl. Although these can offer some immediate relief and seem like a quick fix, they do not resolve the issue and should not be used as a replacement for good brushing and interdental cleaning. If you do choose to supplement brushing with mouthwash it is important to ensure that you do not do so directly after brushing as this allows the fluoride in the toothpaste to stay in contact with the teeth reducing tooth decay.

It is also important to visit your dentist/hygienist if you notice bleeding or any other symptoms so that a thorough assessment of your gums can be carried out and an appropriate treatment plan can be made. Advice will also be given on the best home care regime and dental aids for your mouth. This will help to stabilise the situation after which regular hygiene visits should be scheduled to monitor and maintain your gum health long term.