The Dentist Magazine.

Take this test and discover your risk of mouth cancer

Published: 27/11/2017

More than three in four (78 per cent) adults do not consider themselves to be at risk of mouth cancer, but a new poll finds many Brits are putting themselves in danger by smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and regular oral sex.  As part of November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month, the Oral Health Foundation wants to raise awareness of the disease and has created a test for you to determine your mouth cancer risk.

The majority of Brits do not consider themselves to be at risk of mouth cancer yet confess to regularly putting themselves in danger through exposure to the disease’s leading causes, a new poll finds.

Latest research by the Oral Health Foundation reveals more than three in four (78 per cent) British adults believe they are not at risk of being diagnosed with mouth cancer, despite many admitting to smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

Almost one in five (18 per cent) polled smoke, nearly half (48 per cent) drink alcohol on a regular basis, close to a third (31 per cent) confess to having an unhealthy diet while more than one in ten (11 per cent) have oral sex at least once a week.

Smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, poor diet and the human papillomavirus (HPV) transmitted through oral sex, are all heavily linked to a greater risk of developing mouth cancer.

The charity, campaigning as part of Mouth Cancer Action Month, are looking to spread awareness of the causes associated with the disease and highlight the importance of recognising whether you are at greater risk.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation says, “More than nine in ten mouth cancers are linked to lifestyle factors and the only way to curb this risk is by quitting or reducing habits such as smoking and alcohol.

“Mouth cancer is still a relatively unknown disease, with many still unaware that you are able to develop cancer on the tongue, cheeks, lips, head and neck. It is important to be aware that cancer could develop in this area of the body, especially if you regularly expose yourself to lifestyle choices which have been linked with the disease.”   

According to latest figures, the number of new mouth cancer cases each year in the UK has exceeded 7,500, meaning those diagnosed with the disease have increased by more than two thirds (68 per cent) in the last 20 years.

More than 2.5 million British adults exceed the recommended 14 units of alcohol weekly, while there are an estimated 8.5 million smokers.

The current lifetime risk of mouth cancer in the UK is one in 75 for men and one in 150 for women and research from the Oral Health Foundation could offer an explanation.

Findings from the nationwide survey show men are slightly more likely to smoke (18 per cent vs 17 per cent), are a fifth more likely to regularly consume alcohol (57 per cent vs 40 per cent) and are twice as likely to perform oral sex (14 per cent vs 7 per cent) compared to women.

Manchester-based dentist Ben Atkins, a trustee at the Oral Health Foundation, says although mouth cancer is linked to certain risk factors, it is not completely avoidable.

Atkins says, “While there are steps you can take to keep mouth cancer at bay, no cancer is totally preventable. Being diagnosed with mouth cancer remains fairly unlikely but could happen to anybody so it is really important to know what to look for and be proactive in looking for the early warning signs.

“Look out for mouth ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, red or white patches and unusual lumps and swellings.

“Places to check include the floor and roof of your mouth, inside of the cheeks, gums, tongue, lips, head and neck.

“If you notice any of these, please make an appointment with your dentist or doctor.”    

Mouth Cancer Action Month aims to raise awareness of mouth cancer, promote the value of self-examination and encourage regular trips to the dentist, as they perform a visual mouth cancer check during every dental check-up.

The charity campaign is sponsored by Simplyhealth Professionals and has further support from Dentists’ Provident.

More information about mouth cancer can be found at

What is your risk of mouth cancer? 

Scorecard: A = 10 points, B = 7 points, C = 3 points, D = 1 point

What is your smoking status?
a. Heavy smoker
b. Moderate
c. Ex-smoker
d. Never smoker

How much alcohol do you drink in a week?
a. 14+ units
b. 6-13 units
c. 1-5 units
d. Do not drink

How often do you have oral sex?
a. Daily
b. Weekly
c. Monthly
d. Annually or less

4. How many portions of fish, fruit and vegetables do you have a day? 
a. 0
b. 1-4
c. 5-9
d. 10+

5. Do you use smokeless tobacco or chewing tobacco (paan, gutkha, betel nut)?
a. Yes, often
b. Yes, occasionally 
c. I am an ex-user
d. I never use these



Your mouth cancer risk is….


0 – 5


You seem to live a healthy lifestyle and are at low risk of developing mouth cancer. Risk is not totally diminished though so it is advised that you maintain regular visits to the dentist, as often as they recommend. 


6 – 20


Your risk of mouth cancer is relatively low but you could improve elements of your lifestyle to reduce your risk further. Try to reduce some habits, visit the dentist regularly and be alert to any unusual changes in the mouth.   


21 – 30


You could be at risk of mouth cancer due to frequently exposing yourself to a number of lifestyle choices associated with the disease. Cut down on these and try to improve your diet. Visit the dentist regularly and be more active in performing self-checks at home.   


31 – 50


You could be at extreme risk of developing mouth cancer. It is important that you try to improve your health by adopting a healthier lifestyle. You might need more regular dental appointments due to your current choices and it is highly advised you begin a routine of self-examining your mouth at home for anything out of the ordinary.