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Lower Risk of Oral Cancer Linked to Flossing, Dentist Visits

By Wyatt Dilling on October 11, 2021 in Dental Health


Researchers have discovered that people who don’t floss daily are more likely to develop oral cancer

Flossing is an important oral health habit that promotes a healthy mouth and body. Yet, in a recent survey only 16 percent of Americans, said they always floss once a day. When asked why they don’t floss, participants stated it was too time-consuming, it’s painful, or it’s gross. Understanding the cause-and-effect relationship between flossing and being healthy can help keep us motivated. Did you know that poor oral health is linked to the development of oral cancer? Or that oral cancer kills roughly one person per hour? Researchers have discovered that people who floss at least once a day are less likely to develop oral cancer.

Causes of ORAL CANCER

Researchers compared behaviors of individuals who developed oral cancer and those who did not. They saw that people who did not develop cancer went to the dentist at least once a year and flossed at least once a day.

One summary of this research says that individuals who “went to the dentist less than once a year had nearly twice the risk of developing non-HPV oral cancer than those who went once a year or more.” Additionally, individuals who didn’t floss daily “had over twice the risk of developing non-HPV oral cancer than those who flossed more.”

Oral cancer can affect your: 

  • Throat
  • Lips
  • Mouth
  • Tongue
  • Cheeks, and more

More than 90 percent of oral cancer is caused by the cells of the throat and mouth mutating or altering. Cell mutation, or changes of the cells in our mouths, can be caused by:

  • Genetics
  • HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
  • Sun exposure
  • Weakened immunity
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Tobacco consumption

Researchers are now finding that poor dental health practices are also a risk factor for developing oral cancer. In a 2019 presentation, the American Association of Cancer Research stated that poor oral health practices change the bacteria in the mouth. The presence of bad bacteria promotes inflammation, and this constant irritation can lead to non-HPV oral cancer.

WHAT DOES ORAL CANCER LOOK LIKE? 

If you or someone you love suspects they may have oral cancer, visit your dentist and doctor if the symptoms persist for more than two weeks. Symptoms of oral cancer include: 

  • Lip or mouth sore that isn’t healing
  • White or reddish patches inside the mouth
  • Growth or lump in the mouth
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Loose teeth
  • Mouth or ear pain 

Dental visits help catch cancer in the mouth before it’s developed into something more harmful. Your dentist is going to be your first line of defense when preventing oral cancer. That and not smoking. Tell them about any problems you have when chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving your tongue and jaw. Additionally, quit smoking (or don’t start) and drink alcohol in moderation. Smokeless tobacco products can also increase your risk of oral cancer. 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE ORAL CANCER

Your dentist cares about more than just your mouth. They care about your overall well-being, too. If they see a warning sign of oral cancer, they may have you return after a few weeks to reassess. They may also take a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis. Your dentist may refer you to another dentist or your physician for a second opinion. Talk to your dentist about any questions you have during the process. To find a dentist in your area, click here.

IS IT EVER TOO LATE TO START FLOSSING? 

No. It’s never too late to start taking care of your oral health. Initially, you may experience sensitivity or bleeding, which is normal. When we don’t perform the right oral hygiene practices, plaque builds up between our teeth and on our gums. This plaque is made up of cavity-causing bacteria that irritates the tissue of our mouth. When we floss and brush well, we remove the plaque that has been living there for quite some time. The disruption of this plaque can cause bleeding, which is normal. By continuing good oral health habits, your gums will become healthier, free from the plaque that was weighing them down, and the bleeding and sensitivity will go away.

Looking for tips on brushing and flossing? Click here.