Oral cancer is a serious dental disease which is highly treatable, but that can be life threatening if not caught early. It affects all parts of the mouth, including the lips, gums, tongue, cheeks, and throat. Your dentist is your first and best line of defense because symptoms can be identified at your regular dental checkups.
What is oral cancer?
Oral cancer is a growth or sore in your mouth. It may look benign or go unnoticed at first, but you should be aware of any bump, sore, or discoloration that doesn't go away after two weeks. These are the common symptoms:
- Unexplained bumps, lumps, thickening, swelling or bleeding
- Red, white, or speckled patches
- An ulcer, cold sore or discoloration that doesn't go away
- Hard-edged cracks
- Pain, tenderness, or numbness
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, talking, or moving any parts in your mouth
- An unexplained change in your bite
What are the risk factors for oral cancer?
Men over the age of 50 are at the greatest risk. Other risks include:
- Tobacco use. Smokers and users of smokeless tobacco have much higher rates of developing oral cancers
- Heavy alcohol use
- Prolonged sun exposure, especially at a young age
- Family history of cancer
What can I do?
You can reduce your risk immediately by quitting all tobacco use, using alcohol only in moderation, and limiting sun exposure. You should also make sure to see your dentist for regular checkups at least twice a year. These checkups will include an oral cancer screening throughout your mouth that is designed to detect any early signs of the disease. Always contact your dentist immediately if you notice any persistent growths or sores in between appointments.