• What is mouth cancer?

    Most people have heard of cancer affecting parts of the body such as the lungs or breasts. However, cancer can occur in the

    mouth, where the disease can affect the lips, tongue, cheeks and throat.


    Who can he affected by mouth cancer?

    Anyone can be affected by mouth cancer, whether they have their own teeth or not. Mouth cancers are more common in

    people over 40, particularly men. However, research has shown that mouth cancer is becoming more common in younger

    patients and in women. There are, on average, over 4,400 new cases of mouth cancer diagnosed in the UK each year. The

    number of new cases of mouth cancer is on the increase.


    Do people die from mouth cancer?

    Yes. Nearly 1,700 people in the UK die from mouth cancer every year. Many of these deaths could be prevented if the cancer

    was caught early enough. As it is, people with mouth cancer are more likely to die than those having cervical cancer or melanoma skin cancer.


    What can cause mouth cancer?

    Most cases of mouth cancer are linked to tobacco and alcohol. Cigarette, cigar and pipe smoking are the main forms of

    tobacco use in the UK. However, the traditional ethnic habits of chewing tobacco, betel quid, gutkha and paan are particularly dangerous.

    Alcohol increases the risk of mouth cancer, and if tobacco and alcohol are consumed together the risk is even greater.

    Overexposure to sunlight can also increase the risk of cancer of the lips.

    What are the signs of mouth cancer?

    Mouth cancer can appear in different forms and can affect all parts of the mouth, tongue and lips. Mouth cancer can appear

    as a painless mouth ulcer that does not heal normally. A white or red patch in the mouth can also develop into a cancer. lt is

    important to visit your dentist if these areas do not heal within three weeks.


    How can mouth cancer be detected early?

    Mouth cancer can often be spotted in its early stages by your dentist during a thorough mouth examination. lf mouth cancer

    is recognised early, then the chances of a cure are good Many people with mouth cancer go to their dentist or doctor too late.


    What is involved in a full check-up of the mouth?

    The dentist examines the inside of your mouth and your tongue with the help of a small mirror. Remember, your dentist is able

    to see parts of your mouth that you cannot see easily yourself your dentist can check for mouth cancer. Smoking and drinking put you more at risk.


    What happens if my dentist finds a problem?

    lf your dentist finds something unusual or abnormal they will refer you to a consultant at the local hospital, who will carry

    out a thorough examination of your mouth and throat. A small sample of the cells may be gathered from the area (a biopsy),

    and these cells will be examined under the microscope to see what is wrong.


    What happens next?

    lf the cells are cancerous, more tests will be carried out. These may include overall health checks, blood tests, x-rays or scans.

    These tests will decide what course of treatment is needed.


    Can mouth cancer he cured?

    lf mouth cancer is spotted early, the chances of a complete cure are good, and the smaller the area or ulcer the better the

    chance of a cure. However, too many people come forward too late, because they do not visit their dentist for regular examinations.

  • How can smoking affect my oral health?

    Most people are now aware that smoking is bad for our health. It can cause many different medical problems and, in some cases, fatal diseases. However, many people don’t realise the damage that smoking does to their mouth, gums and teeth.

    Smoking can lead to tooth staining, gum disease, tooth loss and in more severe cases mouth cancer.

    Why are my teeth stained?

    One of the effects of smoking is staining on the teeth due to the nicotine and tar content. It can make the teeth yellow in a very short time, and heavy smokers often complain that their teeth are almost brown after years of smoking.

    How will smoking affect my gums and teeth?

    Smoking can also lead to gum disease. Patients who smoke are more likely to produce bacterial plaque, which leads to gum disease. The gums are affected because smoking causes a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream, so the infected gums fail to heal. Smoking causes people to have more dental plaque and for gum disease to progress more rapidly than in non-smokers. Gum disease still remains the most common cause of tooth loss in adults.

    How is smoking linked with cancer?

    Most people know that smoking can cause lung and throat cancer, but many people are still unaware that it is one of the main causes of mouth cancer too. Every year thousands of people die from mouth cancer brought on by smoking. (See FAQ ‘Tell Me About Mouth Cancer’)

    Are there special dental products I can use?

    There are special toothpastes for people who smoke. They are sometimes a little more abrasive than ordinary pastes and should be used with care. Your dentist may recommend that you use these toothpastes alternately with your usual toothpaste.

    There are several whitening toothpastes on the market. Although they do not affect the natural colour of your teeth, they may be effective at removing staining and therefore may improve the overall appearance of your teeth.

    What about mouthwashes?

    People who smoke may find they are more likely to have bad breath than non-smokers. Fresh breath products such as mouthwashes may help to disguise the problem in the short term, but will only mask it.

    How often should I visit my dentist?

    It is important that you visit your dentist regularly both for a normal check up and a full mouth examination so that any other conditions can be spotted early.

    You should visit your dentist at least once a year. However, this may be more often if your dentist feels it necessary. People who smoke are more likely to have stained teeth, and therefore may need appointments more often with the dental hygienist.

    What can my dentist do for me?

    Your dentist will carry out a regular examination to make sure that your teeth and gums and whole mouth are healthy.

    Your dentist will also examine your cheeks, tongue and throat for any signs of other conditions that may need more investigation.

    They may also be able to put you in touch with organisations and self- help groups who will have the latest information to help you stop smoking.

    Will I need any extra treatment?

    Your dentist may also refer you to a dental hygienist, for further treatment, thorough cleaning and to keep a closer check on your oral hygiene.

    Your dental hygienist will be able to advise you on how often you should visit them, although this should usually be every three to six months.

  • What are mouth ulcers?

    Ulcers are painful sores that appear inside the mouth. They are usually red or yellow. They are different from cold sores, which appear on the outer lips and are due to a virus.

    What are the common causes of mouth ulcers?

    Usually a single mouth ulcer is due to damage caused by say biting the cheek or tongue, sharp teeth, tooth brushing or poorly fitting dentures. These ulcers are called ‘traumatic ulcers’.

    lf you have a number of mouth ulcers the usual cause is ‘recurrent aphthous stomatitis’.

    How do I know if I have a traumatic ulcer?

    Traumatic ulcers are usually on their own, are next to the cause of the damage and go away once the source of the problem is removed.

    What are the signs of recurrent aphthous stomatitis?

    Recurrent aphthous stomatitis is a common problem and leads to repeated bouts of mouth ulcers in otherwise healthy children and young people. The cause is not known, but it is not infectious and is unlikely to be inherited.

    Are there different types of recurrent mouth ulcers?


    • Minor ulcers are the most common. They can appear inside the cheeks, on the lips, tongue and gums and, more rarely, on the roof of the mouth. Most of these ulcers are the size of the top of a pencil and can sometimes come in clusters. You can get four to six at any one time.
    • Large ulcers are more severe and can last for five to ten weeks. They may appear near the tonsils and can be very painful, especially when swallowing. You usually only get one at a time.
    • It is also possible to have up to 100 very small painful ulcers which last for one to two weeks.

    However, these last two varieties are very rare.

    You may get ulcers in other parts of the body such as your eyes or genital area. It is important to tell your dentist about this.

    What are the less common causes of mouth ulcers?

    Infections can cause mouth ulcers. Herpes simplex often leads to widespread mouth ulcers in children and some adults. Other less common viral and bacterial infections may cause mouth ulcers, but this is rare.

    Mouth ulcers can be caused by anaemia and occasionally by other blood disorders and some skin or gastrointestinal diseases. Sometimes the mouth ulcers are the only sign of an underlying disease.

    Can I catch mouth ulcers?

    Mouth ulcers cannot be caught by kissing or sharing drinks and utensils as they are not caused by an infection.

    What types of treatment are there for mouth ulcers?

    The treatment depends on the cause of the ulcers. Sometimes all that is needed is for a sharp tooth to be smoothed down or a denture adjusted, although some patients may need a variety of mouthwashes or tablets.

    What should I do if I think I have mouth ulcer?

    If an ulcer lasts more than a few days you should always ask your dentist or doctor for advice. They may be able to tell you the cause and provide treatment, or they may arrange further tests or refer you to a specialist if necessary.

    Can cancer cause mouth ulcers?

    Cancer of the mouth can first appear as a mouth ulcer. The ulcers caused by mouth cancer are usually single and last a long time without any obvious local cause (for example a sharp tooth).

    Any ulcer that lasts longer than three weeks should be looked at by your dentist.

    Ulcers caused by cancer usually appear on or under the tongue, but may occasionally appear somewhere else in the mouth.

    Cancer of the mouth is usually associated with heavy smoking and drinking. Doing both together greatly increases the risk.

    How can I prevent mouth ulcers?

    You may be able to reduce the risk of mouth ulcers by:

    • Maintaining good oral hygiene o using high-quality toothbrushes (to reduce the risk of damage to your mouth).
    • Eating a good diet which is rich in vitamins A, C and E and which includes foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables (to lessen the risk of mouth cancer).
    • Regularly visiting your dentist.

    Should I worry about my ulcers?

    Most ulcers heal up on their own. However, if they don’t heal within three weeks you should visit your dentist. Your dentist will be able to examine your mouth to check that the problem is an ulcer and not something more serious such as mouth cancer.

    lf you suffer from ulcers that come and go often, you should visit your dentist to check that there is not an underlying medical cause.

    Golden rules if you have mouth ulcers:

    Always see your dentist or doctor if,

    • The ulcer lasts for more than 2 to 3 weeks.
    • You are unwell.
    • The ulcers keep coming back.


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