27 November 2019

Smokers and heavy drinkers are more willing to give up on their unhealthy habits if they are aware of the links to mouth cancer, according to new research.

An opinion poll by the Oral Health Foundation and Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, reveals that one-in-two smokers (50%) would quit cigarettes if they knew it increased their risk of mouth cancer while four-in-ten (40%) heavy drinkers would be willing to reduce their alcohol consumption.

However, awareness of mouth cancer for these groups are concerning health experts.

New findings show that just over a third (38%) of the 7.2 million smokers in the UK do not know that tobacco causes mouth cancer while half (50%) of all heavy drinkers are unaware that excessive alcohol use is linked with the disease.

Ex-smoker Stuart Caplan, who also consumed alcohol regularly, is a mouth cancer survivor. As part of November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month, Stuart is urging people to learn from his experience and cut out those habits that pose the greatest threats to our oral health.

Stuart says: “Despite quitting both smoking and booze nearly a decade ago, I was diagnosed with mouth cancer.  I was given a 20% chance of surviving a year, even with surgery.  That was six years ago and luckily, I’ve beaten the odds.  

“I had two-thirds of my tongue removed, as well as many of the muscles and tissue around my head and neck. The surgery was a success and the cancer disappeared. However, I’m still having to deal with the after-effects today, including re-learning to eat and talk.

“My message is please avoid any damaging lifestyle choices which can enhance your risk, such as smoking and alcohol. I used to smoke and drink, and after the battle I’ve had, I never will again.”

In the UK, 8,337 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer last year. Consequently, the number of cases has doubled within the last generation. 

Smoking and alcohol are the two biggest risk factors linked to the disease, and together they treble a person’s risk of mouth cancer.

Around two-in-three mouth cancers are caused by smoking and around one-in-three have a connection to alcohol.

Ben Atkins is a dentist and Trustee of the Oral Health Foundation.  Dr Atkins wants people to actively take an interest in knowing the risks associated with smoking, drinking and a general lack of oral health awareness.

Dr Atkins says: “With the holiday season is coming up, there is no time like the present to make a change. By quitting tobacco and cutting your alcohol use, you will not only see benefits to your oral health, but your general health and wellbeing will improve too. This decision might not only save your life but could also add years onto it.

“Please do stick to the weekly recommended limit of 14 units of alcohol and try your upmost to quit smoking. If you are finding it difficult to make the changes, support is there for you. Stay in contact with your dentist so they can monitor your mouth for any signs of mouth cancer and also give you advice for smoking cessation and alcohol. It is also important to know that you might be more at risk so be vigilant between dental visits and keep an eye out for anything unusual.”

Delving deeper into our affiliation with the festive season, more than half (52%) of the people polled admit to drinking a lot more alcohol than usual during this time.

When under the influence of alcohol, Brits are more likely to turn to unhealthy food (18%), skip brushing teeth (9%) and have a cigarette (9%).

Dr Catherine Rutland, Head Dental Officer at Simplyhealth, is encouraging everybody to make positive changes to their lifestyle and to seek professional advice on how to do this if in doubt.

Dr Rutland says: “If you are going to do one thing for Mouth Cancer Action Month, make sure you know the basics.  Speak to your dental team about your lifestyle habits such as alcohol consumption, diet and smoking and ask about the risks and symptoms of mouth cancer.

“By doing this, you give yourself the best possible chance of preventing mouth cancer or spotting it at the earliest stage.”

To discover more information about lifestyle habits, visit www.mouthcancer.org.