Every day we brush our teeth, we smile, we talk, we laugh, we kiss - all these activities involve our mouths. Our window to the world. Sometimes we wear lipstick, or get our teeth straightened and whitened, because our mouths are on show and are how we communicate - a vital organ.
Yet a recent survey by the Head and Neck Cancer Foundation (HNCF) shows that women are not clued up on how to spot the early signs of mouth and oral cancers. Only a quarter of us girls (26%) go to the dentist once a year, and one in ten (11%) say they never go! Almost three quarters (72%) said their dentist didn’t check for mouth cancer at their last check up, or they were unsure.
Its recent campaign - #GetMouthyAboutCancer - encourages us to share how to check our mouths at home and get talking about one of these devastating forms of cancer. Unfortunately for patients diagnosed with oral cancers, the scars and surgery can not always be hidden - neck dissections, bone removals and repeated surgeries can be visible, and sometimes quite devastating, if the cancer is not caught early enough.
Michelle Vickers, the CEO of HNCF explains how you can potentially save your life with a 60-second mouth check:
1. Look at your whole face - have you noticed any swellings that are not usually there? Inspect your skin, do you have any moles that have become larger or started to itch or bleed? Don’t forget to turn your head from side to side, this stretches the skin over the muscles making lumps easier to see.
2. Feel your neck - you will need to run the fingers under your jaw and feel along the large muscle either side of neck using the balls of your fingers. You need to be checking for any lumps or swollen areas and if everything feels the same on both sides.
3. Pucker up - when you apply lipstick or brush your teeth, use this time to inspect your lips. Feel around the inside of your lips and along the gum line. Any ulcers that have been hanging around or come back, changes in texture, or lumps and bumps should be checked out with a medical professional.
4. Feel your cheeks - check both the inside an outside with your fingers. It should feel the same on both sides. You’re looking for red or white patches, lumps, ulcers, or tenderness.
5. Tilt your head - to look at the roof of your mouth, tilt your head back and open your mouth wide infant of a mirror. You are looking for ulcers and also changes in colour and texture. If you do this once a week, you’ll spot if anything changes or looks unusual.
Michelle says: “Brits are blasé about mouth cancer - awareness is much lower than breast cancer for example. We want everybody to ask their dentist to do a mouth cancer check - dentists are obliged to, but as the research shows, most of us do not know this is included for free in a dental check up. You’re within your rights to ask! In the meantime, it would be great to get everyone checking at home with the tips above.”
To find out how please watch HNCF’s video:
Once you’ve seen this video you will know whether your dentist is checking your mouth, or not, and how to check yourself at home.
Visit the charity’s website at www.hncf.org.uk to find out more.
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