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TRICARE Dental Program Is Your Ally in the Fight Against Oral Cancer

Image of TRICARE Dental Program Is Your Ally in the Fight Against Oral Cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health, health care providers diagnose about 54,000 new cases of oral cancer per year in the United States. As with all types of cancer, education and early detection are critical. Learn how to spot the warning signs of oral cancer before the disease can spread.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Oral cancer isn’t among the most common types of cancer, but it’s a serious issue. According to the National Institutes of Health, health care providers diagnose about 54,000 new cases of oral cancer per year in the United States.

“As with all types of cancer, education and early detection are critical,” said Doug Elsesser, program analyst with the Defense Health Agency’s TRICARE Dental Program. “Learn how to spot the warning signs of oral cancer before the disease can spread.”

Read on to learn about the causes and symptoms of oral cancer, as well as how your TRICARE Dental Program (TDP) benefits can help you in the fight against this disease.

Causes

Oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat. It affects more than twice as many men as women.

Several lifestyle choices can increase your risk of developing oral cancer. These include:

  • Tobacco use. Both smoking and smokeless tobacco increase your risk.
  • Heavy alcohol use.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV). Infection with this sexually transmitted disease has been linked to oral cancer.
  • Sun exposure. This can lead to cancer of the lip.

Symptoms

There are several symptoms of oral cancer, including:

  • A sore, irritation, lump, or thick patch in your mouth, lip, or throat
  • A white or red patch in your mouth
  • A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in your throat
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking
  • Difficulty moving your jaw or tongue
  • Swelling of your jaw
  • Numbness in your tongue or other areas of your mouth
  • Ear pain

Talk to your dentist if you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks.

Early detection is key

As with most types of cancer, the earlier you detect oral cancer, the better your chances of survival. You can do an oral cancer self-check by using the mirror and checking your mouth, face, and neck for lumps, swelling, tenderness, or abnormal skin texture.

Also, it’s important to see your dentist on a regular basis. The TDP covers two routine dental exams in a consecutive 12-month period. Ask your dentist to look for any oral abnormalities if your routine exam doesn't include an oral cancer check.

Oral cancer and TDP Wellness Program

If you or a family member has already been diagnosed with oral cancer, you qualify for additional dental services through the TDP Wellness Program. This free program provides enhanced dental benefits to help you treat periodontal disease.

Covered gum disease services your dentist may recommend include an additional periodontal maintenance service per year and scaling and root planning, which is a deep cleaning of your teeth to remove tartar and plaque underneath your gums and on the root of your tooth. Your wellness benefit covers up to four of these periodontal procedures.

To register for the TDP Wellness Program, add your medical condition to the “Manage My Wellness” section of the My Account feature.

Looking for more dental health tips and information about your TDP benefits? Check out the latest TRICARE Dental Program Health Matters Newsletter.

Would you like the latest TRICARE news sent to you by email? Visit TRICARE Subscriptions, and create your personalized profile to get benefit updates, news, and more.

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Last Updated: September 29, 2023
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