We’ve all been told at one point or another to floss daily. It’s an important oral health habit that promotes a healthy mouth and body. Yet, only 16 percent of Americans surveyed said they always floss once a day. When asked why they don’t floss, other participants stated that it was too time-consuming, that it is painful, or that 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 cancer? Or that oral cancer kills roughly one person per hour, 24 hours a day? Researchers have discovered that people who floss at least once a day are invariably less likely to develop oral cancer.
How Oral Cancer is Caused
Researchers compared behaviors of individuals who developed oral cancer and those that did not. They saw that people who did not develop cancer:
- went to the dentist once a year and
- flossed at least once a day.
One summary of this research states 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 more than the mouth. You can develop cancer in your:
- 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:
- HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
- Sun exposure
- Weakened Immunity
- Alcohol consumption
- Tobacco consumption,
- or a combination of these.
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 their hypothesis was confirmed. 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 include:
- Lip or mouth sore that isn’t healing
- White or reddish patches inside the mouth
- A growth or lump in the mouth
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
- Loose teeth
- Mouth or ear pain
Regular visits to the dentist will depend on your oral and overall health. 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. For more on quitting smoking, click here.
What to Do If You Have Oral Cancer
Your dentist cares about more than just your mouth. They care about your overall wellbeing, too. If they see a warning sign of oral cancer, they may have you return in two to three 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. Together, you can formulate the best plan for a healthy mouth and body. 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.
*Pro Tip: Have you ever tried flossing in a close-up mirror? Watching the floss remove plaque from between your teeth can help you understand how much of an impact this practice has on our dental health. Watch the plaque slide away and do it again tomorrow to improve your dental health habits.
Looking for tips on brushing and flossing? Click here.