Oral Cancer – What You Need to Know

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, 35,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer each year. Oral cancer includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, mouth, sinuses, and throat. Early detection is key to effective treatment. Here is some information about oral cancer and what you can expect from an oral cancer screening from your dentist. 

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is most common in people over the age of 45 but can develop at any age. Men have twice the risk as women. Symptoms that could possibly indicate oral cancer are:

  • Sore on the lip or in the mouth that won’t heal
  • Lump on lip or in the mouth or throat
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, or mouth lining
  • Unusual bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth
  • A sore throat that doesn’t go away
  • The feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty or pain with chewing or swallowing
  • A swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly
  • A change in voice
  • Ear pain

The Oral Cancer Screening

An oral cancer screening by your dentist is painless and takes only a few minutes. It can be performed at your routine dental exam. Here’s what you can expect:

  • You will be asked to remove any dentures or partials if you have them.
  • The dentist will inspect your face, neck, lips, and mouth to look for visible signs of oral cancer.
  • The dentist will feel the area under your jaw and the sides of your neck with both hands to check for lumps.
  • The dentist will inspect the insides of your lips and cheeks.
  • You will be asked to stick out your tongue so it can be checked for swelling, discoloration, or abnormal texture.
  • Using gauze, the dentist will gently pull your tongue to one side and then the other, in order to check for cancer underneath or at the tongue’s base.
The dentist will inspect your throat, as well as the roof and floor of your mouth.