Mouth cancer: What are the causes and symptoms?
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Many of us practise good oral hygiene regularly to prevent tooth decay, and for aesthetic reasons. But being aware of changes or problems with our mouths could be important for other reasons. One expert shared how our mouths can highlight other seemingly unrelated health problems.
Doctor Rizwan Mahmood, from Rüh Dental, explained: “Analysing oral health regularly, along with brushing and flossing at home, can help keep your physical health in good order too.
“It’s also wise to be aware of any changes in the mouth, as well as pain. If you notice anything untoward, see your dentist or medical practitioner straight away.”
He shared six problems in the mouth to look for.
Bleeding or sore gums
Bleeding or aching gums could be pointing towards gum disease.
“Gum disease can be prevalent in people with underlying conditions such as diabetes, an ailment which can weaken the immune system – putting you in danger of infection,” said Dr Mahmood.
“If you have diabetes, you’re more likely to suffer with a gum disease known as periodontal disease. This is inflammation in the gums and the bones around your teeth. Periodontal disease also causes bad breath (halitosis) and even loss of teeth.
“Diabetes can cause a dry mouth because of a lack of saliva which in turn can cause ulceration and tooth decay. Furthermore, you are also prone to developing oral thrush as it can impact the way your body fights off infections.
“This can put your gums at risk of inflammation because of the bacteria living in plaque.”
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Dr Mahmood added that people with gum disease can be twice or three times more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or develop heart disease.
Jaw pain or discomfort
“Occasionally, pain or discomfort in the jaw could be indicative of a heart attack,” said Dr Mahmood. “Although the chances are rare, it’s important to recognise these symptoms which could save someone’s life.
“Your jaw could hurt with cardiac arrest because the nerves that detect pain coming from the heart, travel to the same general area in your spinal cord as they share the same nerve pathway.
“These signals then work their way up to the brain. So, in essence your jaw is signalling pain on behalf of your heart.”
If your teeth are wobbly or falling out, it may be a sign of advanced gum disease. It can also be an early indicator of osteoporosis, which decreases bone density and weakens bones.
“There have been studies showing links between osteoporosis and bone loss in the jaw which the teeth anchor into,” explained Dr Mahmood. “This should be investigated further if you’re experiencing random tooth loss.”
Changes in tooth enamel
He said: “If the teeth appear eroded and translucent, that can often be indicative of an eating disorder like bulimia or acid reflux.
“Stomach acid is abrasive and can steadily wear away at tooth enamel. Excessive vomiting can also prompt dry mouth, dry and cracked lips, loss of tooth enamel, swollen salivary glands and sensitive teeth.”
“Bad breath can also be symptomatic for something underlying, something more serious,” said Dr Mahmood. “It could be a pointer to a sinus infection, diabetes, a chronic lung infection, liver or kidney disease.”
Mouth sores and lumps
Dr Mahmood added: “These sores can sometimes be the results of a fungal infection or something more serious, so it is always best to get checked out.
“Oral cancer often starts as a small white or red spot or sore in the mouth and it is more likely to affect smokers or alcohol drinkers.
“Signs of oral cancer include sores that don’t heal easily, hard spots, rough areas, discoloured tissues, numbness and changes in the way teeth fit together. Lumps or irregular tissue in the mouth or inner cheek, head or neck, should all be checked out too.
“Please note that oral cancer isn’t something you should try and diagnose at home, see your dentist who will refer you to a specialist if needed.”
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