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5 ways to lower your oral cancer risk

Posted on April 6, 2023 in Healthy You

As we age, our chances of developing oral cancer (mouth cancer) increases, but there are several things you can do to lower the risk of being diagnosed. Some lifestyle habits boost your odds of getting oral cancer, so reducing or eliminating them may impact your risk of being diagnosed. 

Fast facts about oral cancer

  • Rates of oral cancer diagnosis begin to spike after age 50.1
  • The average age at diagnosis is 64.2
  • Oral cancers are most often found on the tongue, tonsils, back of the throat just behind the mouth, the gums and the bottom of the mouth.2
  • The lifetime risk of developing oral cancer is about 1 in 60 for men and 1 in 141 for women.2

5 oral cancer risk factors you need to know

Aging is an unavoidable risk factor for oral cancer, but you can counteract the effects of aging on your oral cancer risk by limiting the disease risk factors that you can control. 

  1. Tobacco use: Smoking and tobacco use is one of the most researched and established links to oral cancer. The more you smoke or use tobacco, the greater your risk. Kicking your tobacco habit will not only reduce your risk of oral cancer but also improve your overall quality of life.3
  2. Alcohol consumption: Like tobacco use, alcohol consumption is another well-known risk factor for oral cancer. Heavy drinkers are at a greater risk compared to light drinkers.3
  3. Bodyweight: Researchers have linked people who have excess weight to higher rates of mouth cancer.3
  4. A diet low in produce: Eating more fruits and vegetables is a great way to lower your risk of oral cancer, as studies have found that people with diets lacking produce are more likely to be diagnosed.3
  5. Sun exposure: UV light from the sun can lead to oral cancer on the lips. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, make sure to protect your skin by wearing sunscreen on your face and lips, and wearing a hat.3

An important note about risk factors and oral cancer prevention

Reducing or eliminating risk factors for certain diseases, including oral cancer, is a major step toward protecting your long-term health. But lowering your risk does not guarantee disease prevention, and you may still get oral cancer even if you have no risk factors. Don’t let that fact discourage you – you still have power in terms of managing the disease if you are diagnosed.

If you develop oral cancer, early detection is crucial to effectively treating the disease and improving your long-term outlook. The best way you can detect mouth cancer early is by seeing your dentist twice a year for preventive visits. In addition to a thorough teeth and gum cleaning and exam, your dentist will perform an oral cancer screening to check for any lumps, discoloration or other signs of early disease.

These life-saving oral cancer screenings are one of the many reasons you should keep your twice-yearly appointments with your dentist. If you need help finding an in-network dentist near you, visit Delta Dental of Iowa’s Find a Provider tool or call our Customer Service team at 800-544-0718.


1. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
2. American Cancer Society, Key Statistics
3. American Cancer Society, Risk Factors


American Cancer Society