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Oral Cancer: Do You Know The Signs?

Did you know that dentists look for signs of oral cancer during your exam?

Look For Signs

Oral cancer can affect your lips, gum tissues, cheek lining, floor and roof of your mouth, tongue, tonsils or throat. If you have any of the following signs or symptoms, talk with your dentist.

  • Any sore that bleeds easily and persists longer than two weeks.
  • Swelling, lump, rough spot, crust, or small-eroded area anywhere in or around the mouth or neck.
  • White or red patches in the mouth or on the lips.
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together.

Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting oral cancer is a risk factor. Some risk factors can be reduces but others cannot. Risk factors for cancers of the head and neck, including the oral cavity, include:

  • Tobacco/Alcohol Use:Smoking and oral tobacco products increase the risk of oral cancer. For people who smoke heavily and drink alcohol, the risk of developing oral and throat cancers is about 30 times higher than for those who don't.
  • Sunlight: Prolonged exposure to the sun increases the risk for lip cancer.
  • Age: Those over age 40 are at a greater risk.
  • Gender: Oral cancer affects men twice as often as it does women.
  • Race: African Americans, especially males, are at greater risk of death from oral cancer.
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): HPV may contribute to the development of approximately 70% of oral cancer cases.

What to Expect if an issue is identified

  • Your dentist may complete an in-office procedure called a brush biopsy. This painless procedure can lead to a preliminary diagnosis.
  • Your dentist may recommend that you see an oral surgeon for a surgical biopsy. The results and a definitive diagnosis are typically known and available a couple of weeks later.

Oral cancers can occur in people who do not use tobacco or have any other known identifiable risk factors. This is why it is important to have regular professional checkups that include an oral cancer evaluation. Early detection can make a big difference in the outcome.

An oral cancer evaluation is an important part of a dental exam during regular dental checkups. Your dentist will look over the inside and outside of your mouth to check for lumps or other things that appear abnormal. They will also examine your neck and throat. If your dentist finds something suspicious, they may refer you to an oral surgeon for further testing, diagnosis or treatment.

Note: The information in this document is not meant to replace the advice of your dentist or another licensed healthcare professional. Talk to your dentist for any specific dental advice.

Sources: American Cancer Society: American Dental Association: : American Academy of Pediatrics:*1pbaprl*_ga*NzYwOTMyODQyLjE2ODI5NTI4MTM.*_ga_FD9D3XZVQQ*MTY4NjE0MTc1NS4zLjEuMTY4NjE0MTc3Ni4wLjAuMA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: