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Dental and Oral Health (Seniors)

Oral Health - Tobacco Use and Oral Cancer

Tobacco Use

Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes, or use of smokeless tobacco products increases the user's risks of many cancers, including oral cancer. 


Use of tobacco products can cause or contribute to a number of oral health conditions:

Solution: Quit smoking or using other tobacco products! Ask your dentist or physician about tobacco cessation programs and/or products.

Numerous other resources exist to help those who want to quit smoking:


Oral Cancer

The risk for oral cancer increases with age. The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that more than half of oral cancer patients are 65 years of age or older - and that oral cancer is twice as likely in men as women. Primary risk factors for oral cancer are: 


Tobacco use - An estimated 90 percent of oral cancer patients use tobacco. A smoker is six times more likely to develop oral cancer than a non-smoker. Smokeless tobacco users are at 50 times the risk of oral cancers of the cheek, gums and inner surface of the lips.

Alcohol use - Over 75 percent of oral cancer patients drink alcohol more than occasionally. While heavy drinkers are at higher risk for oral cancer, both drinking and smoking can be a deadly combination.

Leukoplakia (in center of picture) is often an early indicator of oral cancer. (Pictures courtesy of the Case School of Dental Medicine)

Signs of Oral Cancer

A dentist can often identify early signs of oral cancer or precancerous lesions. The American Dental Association provides the following information about oral cancer:


Other signs of oral cancer can include:

  • A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
  • A color change of the oral tissues
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
  • A change in the way the teeth fit together
  • Prolonged exposure to the sun increases the risk of lip cancer.
A squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue

Solution: There are simple precautions to take that can help reduce the risk for oral cancer:

The National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) states that most oral cancer is preventable and encourages making the oral cancer exam a routine part of the regular dental check-up. Like most cancers, early detection is the best cure. To find out if you are at risk for oral cancer, visit the NIDCR page.

Published with permission from Smiles For Seniors ... an oral health initiative of the Ohio Dental Association.

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Last Reviewed: Jun 27, 2014