Keeping up with your regular dental appointments isn't only important for looking after your teeth and gums. Your dentist will also look for warning signs of other problems that could be affecting your oral health, including oral cancer.

More than 900 people are diagnosed with oral cancer in Australia every year, according to the Oral Health CRC. The earlier this disease is caught, the easier it can be to treat – so it's vital that you don't miss your scheduled dental appointments.

What is oral cancer?

The soft tissues in the mouth are as vulnerable to cancer as any other part of the body. Oral cancer (sometimes called mouth cancer) usually starts in the cells that line the lips and the inside of the mouth, but it can then spread to the cheeks, tongue, soft palate and the back of the throat.

If oral cancer isn't treated in time, it can even spread to the head, neck and other parts of the body, putting your health at even greater risk. Like all cancers, it's not certain what causes cells in the mouth to mutate and form oral cancer, but we do know the risk factors that can make the mouth more vulnerable.

What are the risk factors?

Oral cancer is most common in people over 40. You may also be more at risk if you:

• smoke or drink heavily – especially when tobacco and alcohol are combined
• have poor nutrition – especially if you don't eat enough fruit and vegetables
• spend a lot of time in the sun
• have a weak immune system
• have a sexually transmitted infection, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV).

What are the symptoms?

Some of the symptoms associated with oral cancer can also be caused by infections and other oral health problems. Make an appointment to see your dentist if you notice any of the following signs persisting for more than two weeks:

• soreness or numbness of the mouth, throat or lips
• red or white patches in the mouth that may bleed
• difficulty when chewing or swallowing
• difficulty moving the tongue or jaw
• swelling or pain in the jaw
• ear pain.

How can oral cancer be prevented?

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to your oral health. Avoiding tobacco and alcohol, improving your diet and practising good oral health will reduce your risk factor considerably, but you also need to keep up with your routine dental appointments. When oral cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the treatment is usually less invasive and has a much higher success rate.

When you make a preventative care appointment at Face Value Dental, our dentists will carry out a thorough examination of your mouth, which includes performing an oral cancer screening. We use the latest VELscope Vx Oral Assessment System, which helps us to see any abnormalities in the soft tissues of your mouth that aren't visible to the naked eye. This screening is painless and only takes a few minutes.

Make a preventative care appointment in Brisbane

If you need to see a dentist in Brisbane, or it's been over six months since your last check-up, call 1300 653 828 to speak to our friendly team. You can also make an appointment online.

We have dental clinics in Brisbane CBD, Albany Creek, Helensvale and Toowong.