April is oral cancer awareness month. Although it does not get much press, it is one of the 10 most common cancers in the U.S. and has a mortality rate of about 50%. The good news is when found early, treatment of oral cancer is likely to be successful. These statistics are alarming and Dr. Bertolini wants you to know how to identify and even prevent it from happening to you and your family.
Rest assured if you are a patient of Dr. Bertolini your mouth is screened for oral cancer at every routine hygiene (cleaning) checkup. As your dental home, it is our job to keep your mouth healthy and we take that job very seriously! We also believe it is our job to educate you so you can identify a symptom of oral cancer and have it taken care of right away before becoming a serious problem. While it is empowering to know what to look for, we also want you to know how to prevent oral cancer from ever starting.
Important Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer Can Include:
- A sore or irritation that doesn’t heal within a few weeks
- A sore throat that doesn’t improve
- Red or white patches, pain, tenderness, or numbness in the mouth or lips
- Lumps with rough areas
- Trouble chewing, swallowing
- Voice changes
- Difficulty moving your jaw/ tongue
- Changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down.
Now that you know the signs and symptoms to look out for, we’d like you to know how to prevent them from ever occurring. Research shows that you can reduce your risk of cancer altogether by eating nutritious foods. The list below details what foods help you achieve your optimal oral and overall health.
1. Keep a Healthy Weight
Statistics show that 1 in 5 people who die from cancer are overweight. Being overweight increases your chance of oral cancers by 50%. Be physically active to prevent many types of cancers, including oral cancer. Whether you choose walking, biking, dancing or running – do it more and sit less!
Along with sitting less, the tips below can guide you to lifestyle behaviors that will help you stay on the right path to a healthy weight.
2. Eat at Least 5 Servings of Vegetables and Fruits Each Day
According to the American Dental Association, evidence supports that a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and plant-based foods are nutrient-rich and protect against oral cancer and gum disease. Because of the antioxidants, certain fruits have even been shown to reverse oral cancer legions.
Leafy greens are a great defense because they are also rich in antioxidants, like vitamin C and beta-carotene, to combat cancer.
3. Eat Whole Grains, Legumes, and Other Plant Proteins
Focus on eating more plant protein than animal protein to lower your risk for many types of cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends making whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and pulses (legumes) such as beans and lentils a major part of your daily diet.
Beans, lentils, and whole grains have ample protein, fiber that fills you up, and they give you the nutrients and micronutrients your body needs to feel it’s best (without the added saturated fats and cholesterol that protein from animals contains).
4. Cut Out Red & Processed Meats
Processed meat has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a carcinogen (something that causes cancer) and has classified red meat as a probable carcinogen (something that probably causes cancer). Processed meats include bacon, ham, sausage, and lunchmeat. They should be limited or completely removed from your diet. These foods are nutritionally devoid and you can get all the protein your body needs through beans, other legumes, and whole grains. Eating more plant-protein is associated with a lower risk of many types of cancer.
5. Focus on Adding Nutrient-Rich Foods & Removing Processed Foods
Limit ‘fast-food’ and sugary drinks. There is a strong link between sweetened drinks and weight gain and ‘fast-food’ or ‘convenience foods’ like frozen meals, processed snack foods, bakery items, and desserts are usually high in calories and in large portions. Eating this type of calorie-dense food leaves little room for the more healthful, nutrient-rich foods which your body needs to prevent cancer and feel its best.
6. Avoid All Forms of Tobacco
Studies show that ex-tobacco users reduce their risk of oral cancer by more than one-third.
7. Restrict alcohol consumption
Research shows that all alcoholic drinks may increase your risk of oral cancer. It is not the type of alcohol, it is the amount that affects your risk of cancer. Alcohol consumption at any level is associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
“In its Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen.” 
If you focus on the tips above you will easily maintain a healthy weight and decrease your risk for cancer because you are focused on eating well. Win-win!
When you fill your plate with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains your mouth will be healthy, your energy levels will soar, and as an added bonus your waistline may even shrink!
Our goal is to help you live your life as your best self with a SMILE to match!
 Alcohol and Cancer Risk was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.
(2018, September 13). Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet]