Oral Cancer Awareness Month: It just takes 'two' to protect yourself

Just as two minutes of brushing your teeth twice a day can protect your teeth and gums from tooth decay and gum disease, a 2-minute oral exam once a year can protect you against cancer.

That’s according to Tom Downs, manager of the Carroll County Health Department’s Oral Health Program. April is Oral Cancer Awareness month.


“While the survival rate has improved, too many people still die from oral cancer,” Downs is quoted as having said in a Health Department media release. “That’s why it’s so important to get a two-minute oral cancer exam from your doctor or dentist every year. It’s also critical to reduce risk factors such as tobacco use.”

More than 700 people in Maryland are projected to develop oral cancer in 2019, according to the release, and tobacco use, heavy alcohol use and the human papillomavirus, or HPV, are major causes.


Ways to mitigate your risk of developing oral cancer begin with stopping tobacco use or reducing alcohol consumption, according to the release, as well healthy habits recommended for reducing the risk of all cancers, like eating more fruits and vegetables and wearing sunscreen — SPF 15 or higher — when outside.

The HPV vaccine, recommended for boys and girls beginning at age 11, can also reduce the risk of developing oral cancer after exposure to the virus, according to the release.

Oral cancer is best treated when discovered by a dentist during an oral exam prior to it becoming painful, according to the release, but any of the following symptoms are reasons to see your dentist or doctor right away.

  • A white or red patch in the mouth.
  • A sore, irritation, lump or thickening of the mouth.
  • Persistent sore throat, pain when swallowing, earaches.
  • Hoarseness or feeling that something is caught in the throat.
  • Difficulty moving the tongue or jaw.
  • Numbness of the tongue or other areas of the mouth.
  • Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

For classes, clinics and other resources to help quit using tobacco, contact the health department at 410-876-4429, send email to barbara.white@maryland.gov or visit cchd.maryland.gov.

For more information on oral cancer visit phpa.health.maryland.gov.

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