Risk Factors for Mouth Cancer

Dental Health
By: Spirit Dental
October 1, 2019

Doctor talking to male patient at a table

Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, can develop in any area of your mouth, such as the inside of your cheeks, the roof or floor of your mouth, your tongue or gums, and even your lips.

Having an understanding of what may cause mouth cancer is helpful, as you can then take steps to reduce your risk as much as possible. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of some of the main risk factors for this type of cancer.

Things You Can Control: Using Tobacco Products and Drinking Alcohol

Did you know that the majority of cases of oral cancer are caused by the use of tobacco products like cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipes, and cigars? Plus, the longer you use these products, the higher the risk becomes. So, if you’ve been unconvinced that you need to quit, maybe this fact will help you make that positive change.

Another reason to quit smoking: it’s believed that even secondhand smoke might boost the risk of cancer, including cancers of the head and neck. So, for the sake of your loved ones, it’s best to ditch this unhealthy habit for good.

Drinking a lot of alcohol may also boost your risk. Like smoking, the more alcohol you consume, and the more often that you drink, the higher the risk becomes. And if you’re a smoker and a heavy drinker, the risk of oral cancer is even greater.

Other Habits That Might Affect Risk: Excessive Sun Exposure and Poor Nutrition

Getting too much sun isn’t only bad for your skin; it may even increase your risk of lip cancer. If you have fair skin, or if you work in the great outdoors, you might be even more susceptible, so take extra precautions, such as wearing a lip balm that contains sunscreen, to protect the delicate skin on your lips.

Tip: To avoid excessive exposure to UV rays like those from the sun, it’s also a good idea to avoid the use of tanning beds.

Eating right might help reduce the odds of developing cancer of the mouth, so go ahead and up your intake of fruits and veggies. Why fruits and vegetables, in particular? Well, there are loads of nutrients in these foods, such as vitamin A and carotenoids, that may help keep oral cancer at bay.

Things You Can’t Always Control: Viruses and Other Health Problems

Although you might immediately associate the HPV virus with cervical cancer, the truth is that it might boost the risk of cancer in the oral cavity too. More specifically, HPV-16 and HPV-18 could increase your risk. Plus, this virus is often the culprit behind this cancer when it isn’t caused by alcohol or tobacco use.

Also, if you’ve been diagnosed with certain health conditions, your risk of oral cancer might be higher. Those conditions include:

  • Lichen planus with ulcers
  • Dyskeratosis congenita
  • Fanconi anemia
  • A weakened immune system
  • Previous cancer diagnosis, such as cancer of the lung, larynx, esophagus, cervix, or oral cavity

Side note: Those who are older might be at a greater risk of developing oral cancer (the majority of patients are over the age of 55). Also, it appears that men are more likely than women to develop this cancer. And individuals with a family history of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck might be at risk as well.

Yes, Oral Health Plays a Role!

You were waiting to see if poor oral health would be on this list, weren’t you? Well, it turns out that those who have poor oral health might indeed be at a greater risk of mouth cancer. Yikes!

Maintaining a good oral hygiene routine that includes brushing, flossing, and seeing your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings can help you keep your mouth healthy in more ways than one. In addition to keeping your gums strong and your teeth clean, these simple steps might even help you avoid an oral cancer diagnosis.

Whether or not you’re experiencing symptoms like tooth pain or bleeding gums, make appointments to see your dentist. He or she will thoroughly examine your mouth, looking for the earliest signs that something is amiss. In fact, a trip to the dentist might be what detects oral cancer sooner rather than later.

Pro tip: Get yourself a high-quality dental insurance, like a Spirit dental plan, that will help cover the cost of those important trips to the dentist. That way, you can receive the care that you need without having to worry about breaking the bank in the process.

Oral Cancer: Some Risk Factors Can Be Controlled

Although there are certain factors that you can’t control when it comes to oral cancer risk, there are others, such as oral hygiene, diet, and whether or not you smoke and drink, that are within your control. So, consider taking steps daily to maintain the health of your mouth for many years to come.


Search for Resources


Senior Dental Health
Eye Health
Children's Dental Health
Dental Health