Plaque and Oral Cancer Guidelines for Screening at Home

Cancer is undoubtedly one of the most dreaded diseases in the world today. And while some forms can be managed using natural approaches or chemotherapy, a large number of patients with cancer often succumb to the disease. So how does oral hygiene affect your risk for cancer; and what oral cancer screening guidelines can you practice at home to spot the disease at the earliest point possible?

While oral cancers are uncommon, they’re a fatal disease. According to a report by the US Preventive Services Task Force, more than 54,000 people will be diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal (lip, mouth, and upper throat) this year, nearly 10,000 of whom will likely die from it. The Oral Cancer Foundation projects that only 57% of the survivors will be alive in 5 years.

Dozens of studies over the decades have consistently found that dental plaque does not cause cancer, but it harbors and encourages agents that do. This means that self-care, which includes daily brushing and flossing, can help to prevent more than just dental caries and gum disease. 

Combining these with good diet, proper lifestyle changes, and regular dental visits and teeth cleanings can be a great way to prevent cancer-causing bacteria from forming and incubating in your mouth.

oral cancer screening

Source: Hygiene Edge

How plaque affects Oral Cancer​

Many studies have found that poor oral health translates to poor general health. While the tooth exterior may seem like a sturdy shell that is impenetrable, allowing a large amount of plaque to settle on your teeth can calcify and harden to form tartar. This tartar can develop into a more serious problem called gum disease, which may lead to tooth loss or systemic health problems by allowing bacteria to get into your blood stream.

In one particular study, researchers tracked the health of nearly 1,400 randomly selected healthy adults between the age of 30 and 50 years for two and a half decades. They were interviewed about things in their lifestyle that may increase cancer risk, like smoking and wealth, and their oral hygiene assessed, in terms of plaque, tartar, tooth loss, and gum disease. While none of them had overt periodontal disease, the participants had considerable levels of plaque on the tooth surface.

At the end of the research, 58 of the participants had died of cancer – 35.6 percent of whom were women. The average age of mortality was 60 years for the men and 61 for the women, yet they would be expected to live an additional 8.5 years and 13 years longer, respectively. Deaths among women were largely due to breast cancer, but men were attacked by different types of cancer, including pancreatic and oral cancers. 

According to the study, the dental plaque index for the deceased was higher than for survivors, implying that the gum area of surrounding their teeth had considerable amounts of plaque. The index was much lower for the survivors, suggesting that only a small area of their gum was covered with plaque.

The researchers concluded that dental plaque was a major cause of premature death attributed to cancer, even with consideration of other likely risk factors like smoking, lower educational attainment, lower income, and lower frequency of dental visits. So, it is important that you start taking your oral health seriously to elude life-threatening health concerns in future.

Statistics and facts for oral cancer

  • About 75 percent of oral cancers occur in men.
  • About 80 percent of people diagnosed with oral cancer survive for more than 5 years. However, this drops to 55 percent if the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes near the neck and mouth, and 33 percent for those whose cancer spreads further
  • About 75 percent of oral cancers are associated with the use of any form of tobacco and alcohol abuse. Cancer of the oropharynx is caused by oral HPV infection
  • The Oral Cancer Foundation claims that 115 people in the US alone are diagnosed with some form of oral cancer every day.
  • More than 9,000 people die from oral cancer every year, which translates to one person dying every hour

Oral Cancer Screening at home

Unlike other well-recognized cancers, like breast or prostate cancers, oral, neck, and head cancers have traditionally received minimal media attention. However, this is starting to change as the number of cases of a type of cancer associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) increase. HPV16 is the most common sti – sexually transmitted infection in the US, and is also known to cause cervical cancer.

Oral HPV16 related cancer is mostly found in the oropharynx (back of the throat) – especially in the base of the tongue and tonsils. Although the average age of people diagnosed with oral cavity cancer in America is 62, HPV-related oral cancer is known to attack younger and healthier people.

Self oral cancer screening

While there is no FDA-approved method to diagnose HPV in the throat/mouth, it can be detected by monitoring its symptoms – especially those that last longer than one or two weeks. Some symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Any lump or mass in the neck
  • Pain in the throat or mouth
  • Bleeding in the throat or mouth
  • An enlarged tonsil
  • Any difficulty with swallowing and speech
  • Numbness of the tongue or lips – pronounced on one side

Treatment for oral cancer

Treatment can begin once a clear diagnosis has been obtained and the cancer has been staged. Oral cancer treatment should ideally be a multidisciplinary effort involving surgeons, radiation oncologists, chemotherapy oncologists, dentists, dietitians, and rehabilitation and restorative specialists. Chemotherapy with concomitant radiation, and sometimes surgery, are the most common curative treatment options. 

Chemotherapy, while capable of killing cancer cells, is not routinely employed as a single treatment for oral cancer. It is a potent component of treatment when used to lower the risk of metastasis, sensitize malignant cells to radiation, diminish the size of any malignancy prior to surgery, or for those patients who have confirmed distant metastases of the disease.

Oral cancer screening near me

The early stages of oral cancer are usually painless, which means that it is not noticed or diagnosed until the patient is suffering from chronic pain or loss of function. Early detection of oral cancer increases the likelihood of effective treatment. 

If you already go for regular dental check-ups, you could be receiving oral cancer screening, though you could personally ask your dentist for a screening. Otherwise, schedule an appointment and get yourself screened. It is easy, inexpensive, and can save your life. 

You can reduce the risk of oral cancers by avoiding all forms of tobacco, and consuming alcohol moderately if you have to (maximum of two drinks per day).


  • Editorial team

    A team comprising oral health care professionals, researchers, and professional Writers, striving to impart you with the knowledge to improve your oral health, and that of your loved ones. 

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