What You Should Know About Oral Cancer

Since early detection is so important, check your mouth when brushing and flossing. If, at any time, you notice any changes in the appearance of your mouth or any of these signs and symptoms contact your dentist at once:

  • A persistent sore or irritation that does not heal.
  • Color changes such as the development of red and/or white lesions.
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere, in the mouth or lips.
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area.
  • Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Change in bite

During a dental examination, your dentist can screen for precancerous changes in the oral tissues and help detect cancer at a stage when it can be more successfully treated. Periodic oral exams are essential to maintain good health.

When cancer is not found early, tumors may grow deep into local tissues and spread to lymph glands in the neck. Lymph glands are tissues that act as a barrier to prevent the spread of infections. When tumors invade lymph glands, there is less of a chance for an effective treatment. Oral cancer proves fatal for about 10,000 people each year.

Cancer can affect any part of the oral cavity, including the lip or tongue. The incidence of oral cancer increases with age. In fact about 95 percent of all oral cancers occur in people older than 40. Smoking and use of smokeless (spit) tobacco (chewing tobacco or snuff) or alcohol also increase the risk.

Become active in maintaining your oral health by practicing good oral hygiene, eliminating risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol and regularly visiting your dentist. Periodic dental examinations are an important part of your general and oral health. They allow early detection and appropriate treatment if a cancer develops.