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Go Heavy on Fruits and Veggies

A lack of nutrients can lead to changes in your mouth that make cancer more likely. But vitamins and antioxidants in fruits and veggies rev up your immune system, and that helps protect you. So get at least 5 servings of them a day and mix them up for plenty of variety. Carrots, Brussels sprouts, and squash are especially good for your mouth.

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steamed vegetables
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Cook Smarter

To get the most bang for your fruit-and-veggie buck, don’t cook all the cancer-fighting goodness out of them. Enjoy some of them raw to get the full effect. When you do cook them, stop when they get tender and still have some life in them. Also, cooking oils can form cancer-causing substances at high heat. So instead of frying, it’s a better idea to bake, boil, broil, or steam your food.

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woman pruning flowers
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Use Sun Protection

Too much time in the sun doesn’t just raise your chances of skin cancer, it’s also a problem for your lips. If you can, stay out of direct sunlight in the middle of the day -- that’s when it’s strongest. When you do go out, wear a hat with a wide brim that shades your whole face. Use lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, and put it on often. And stay away from tanning beds.

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men toasting shot glasses
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Cut Down on Alcohol

Heavy drinking over the years irritates your mouth in ways that can set you up for oral cancer. You’re twice as likely to get it if you have 3 to 4 drinks a day. And your odds skyrocket if you both smoke and drink heavily. So if you do drink, keep it in check with just one a day for women or two for men.

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open condom wrapper
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Lower Your Risk of HPV

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of very common viruses. You can have it in your mouth and not know it. That’s because most of the time, it doesn’t cause any issues. But in some people, it can lead to changes that cause cancer. There’s a vaccine for HPV, but it works best if you get it before you're sexually active. If you already are, you can protect yourself by limiting your number of partners and practicing safe sex.

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dental appointment
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Keep Up With Dentist Visits

Dentists don’t just polish your teeth, fill cavities, and get on your case about flossing. They check everything from the bottom of your tongue to the inside of your cheeks for growths that might lead to cancer. They’re on the front lines to catch any problems early on, which can make things easier to treat. See your dentist at least once a year.

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Give Your Mouth a Monthly Check

Between dental visits, it’s up to you to keep an eye on things. Once a month, get in front of a mirror and open up wide. Look for ulcers or unusual red or white patches that stick around for 3 weeks or longer. Check the roof and floor of your mouth, your tongue, your gums, and the inside of your cheeks and lips. If you find anything you’re not sure about, see your dentist.

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Quit Smoking

This is the best thing you can do for your mouth, and the rest of your body, too. The more and longer you smoke -- cigarettes, cigars, or pipes -- the higher your risk. But even if you’ve been at it for a long time, stopping now helps. If you do get cancer, quitting means your treatment will work better, you’ll heal faster, and it’ll be less likely to come back. And if you don’t smoke, don’t start.

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non smoker and smoker
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Stay Away From Secondhand Smoke

Just like with lung cancer, you need to watch out for tobacco even if you don’t smoke. When you spend time around people who do, your odds of oral cancer go up, too. And the longer you’re around it, the higher your risk. There’s no safe level of secondhand smoke.

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Ditch the Chew

There’s no healthy way to use tobacco. Like smoking, there are benefits to quitting chew or snuff, even if you’ve used it for a long time. Your mouth will thank you for other reasons, too. You’re more likely to keep all your teeth and avoid gum disease.

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betel quid
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Don’t Use Betel Quid

Popular in Southeast Asia and some other parts of the world, you chew this mix of betel leaf, areca nut, and lime. When you add tobacco to it, it’s called gutka. Either way, it’s best to avoid it. With or without tobacco, it’s been clearly linked to oral cancer. 

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dental technician finishing dentures
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Are Dentures an Issue?

One school of thought says dentures that don’t fit well, or sharp or crooked teeth, can irritate your mouth, and that may raise your odds for oral cancer. But there’s no clear proof of that. We do know that people who wear dentures aren’t at higher risk. It’s still best to make sure your dentures fit well and that any dental work you have done isn’t bothering your mouth.

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Can Brushing and Flossing Help?

Brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day because it’s just good for oral health. One study seemed to show a link between good oral health and preventing HPV, which would lower your chances of having oral cancer. But the results of the study were limited, and it was only a first look. More research is needed to figure out how strong the connection is

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Is Mouthwash a Problem?

The jury’s still out. Some studies seem to show that mouthwash that has a lot of alcohol could raise your chances for oral cancer. But it’s hard to know for sure because people who drink and smoke also tend to use mouthwash more. That makes it tough to tell if there’s a clear link. The American Dental Association says mouthwash may help people over 6 because it can go where a toothbrush can’t. Use one that has the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 10/13/2019 Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on October 13, 2019


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American Cancer Society: “Can Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers Be Prevented?” “What Are the Risk Factors for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers?”

American Dental Society: “Mouthwash (Mouthrinse).”

Mayo Clinic: “Mouth Cancer.”

World Cancer Research Fund: “Mouth and Throat Cancer.”

NIH, National Cancer Institute: “Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer Prevention (PDQ®) -- Health Professional Version,” “Secondhand Smoke and Cancer.”

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: “How to Reduce Your Risk of Oral Cancer.”

Cancer Research UK: “Mouth and oropharyngeal cancer.”

Illinois Department of Public Health: “Oral Cancer.” “Cancer Prevention Diet.”

NYU Oral Cancer Center: “Prevention.”

American Dental Association: “Detecting Oral Cancer Early,” “American Dental Association Statement on Regular Brushing and Flossing to Help Prevent Oral Infections.”

American Dental Association, Mouth Healthy: “Your Top 9 Questions About Going to the Dentist -- Answered!”

Nature, British Dental Journal: “Statement on mouth cancer diagnosis and prevention.”

Oral Cancer Foundation: “Risk Factors.”

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on October 13, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.