Preventing Oral Cancer Begins Outside the Mouth

Red "Stop oral cancer" sign on hand

When you think about preventing oral cancer, what comes to mind? Many people believe that living a smoke-free, tobacco-free lifestyle is enough. But did you know there’s more than one way to increase your risk of oral cancer, and reducing your risk may be easier than you think? Here are some key steps you and your family can take to keep your mouth healthy and reduce your risk of developing oral cancer.

Oral cancer can develop anywhere in your mouth, including the tongue, gums, throat, tonsils, lips and the lining of your cheeks. Though some forms of cancer will strike at random in patients of any age, there are many forms that can be prevented by changes to diet and lifestyle.


By now, you probably already know that smoking any form of tobacco product — including cigarettes, pipes and cigars — can increase your risk of oral cancer. The inhalation of smoke to your mouth and lungs damages the lining of your mouth and throat. If you only smoke once, your body can repair this damage, but after repeated exposure, these cells may become so damaged, there is no way for them to repair themselves.


Everyone loves the occasional ice-cold beer or frozen margarita. But excessive drinking can increase your risk of oral cancer, especially if combined with smoking. Alcohol causes the cells of the mouth to dry out, which makes it easier for the carcinogens in tobacco and smoke products to damage the cells. Furthermore, alcohol has also been found to cause throat cancer, because it can damage the DNA in the cells of the throat.

The Sun:

You may be surprised to learn that you can get oral cancer from the sun. How? Because without adequate protection, your lips can develop a sunburn that could cause melanoma. Even though summer is winding down, you still need to slather on that SPF year-round. Lip balms with SPF are widely available and should be reapplied frequently. Sunblock should be applied more frequently to lips than the rest of the body — whenever we eat, speak, drink or open and close our mouths, some of that sunblock comes off.


Though there are roughly 200 strains of human papilloma virus (HPV), only nine are known to cause cancer. The HPV strain most commonly associated with oral cancer is HPV16. Because HPV16 is typically transmitted sexually, it can be awkward to talk about it with your children, but it is a conversation you must have. No matter your stand on how to prevent STDs, speak to your kids about prevention by either practicing abstinence or by using condoms every single time.

In an effort to diagnose oral cancer earlier, Dr. George is proud to offer her patients oral cancer screenings via the OralID by Forward Science. This quick, painless device works just like a flashlight, and uses fluorescent technology in the form of a 435-460 nm blue light to detect abnormal lesions, precancerous lesions and oral cancer in the mouth.

If you need more information or have questions about how to discuss oral HPV or any other oral cancer risks with your family, or if you would like to set up an oral cancer screening with the OralID, give Dr. George’s office a call at 724-934-3422.

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on July 20th, 2017