Oral cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms in the early stages, which is why it’s important to have a screening that can detect potential problems before they’re visible to the naked eye or cause sensations.
Signs & Symptoms
Oral cancer can appear throughout the mouth, including on your lips, cheeks, gums, tongue, the roof of your mouth & other soft tissue surfaces. It can also develop further back in your throat, which doctors call oropharyngeal cancer.
Red or white sores that don’t get better over time are the most common oral cancer symptom. These can be discolored patches or hard lumps. They may be accompanied by feelings of pain, but they aren’t always painful. Because it can be difficult to distinguish cancerous sores from normal mouth sores, seeing your dentist for regular screenings is extremely important.
Other symptoms include throat soreness, bad breath & changes in the mouth, such as loose teeth or difficulty chewing & swallowing. If you experience any of these, you should come see us immediately. Though conditions other than cancer can cause these things, visiting us as early as possible is your best chance to improve your oral cancer prognosis.
Risk factors for oral cancer include:
- Tobacco use (smoking, chewing & dip)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Poor diet
- HPV (human papilloma virus)
- Age (higher risk over 40 years old)
How Dentists Diagnose Oral Cancer
During your oral cancer screening, your dentist will visually examine your mouth & surrounding areas. Using lights, mirrors & other tools, they can check areas of your mouth that are otherwise too difficult to see. They are also trained to locate more subtle signs of cancer such as asymmetrical features inside & outside the mouth.
With modern technological advances, dentists also have a wide array of cancer-detecting tools. Specially designed lights can highlight potentially cancerous spots & cleaning rinses can improve the inspection process. This equipment is only used to enhance the visual & physical examinations; it’s never used as a replacement for tried & true detection methods!
When a dentist completes an oral cancer screening, they won’t immediately say whether you have oral cancer. They may wish to monitor the condition of your mouth & they may ask you to come back for further testing. Please understand that this does not necessarily mean that something is wrong. Discovering oral cancer can be complicated. The doctor might simply want to keep an eye on your oral condition to make sure that more serious symptoms don’t appear.
Remember that when caught early, oral cancer has an 80 to 90% survival rate. Oral cancer can seem like a scary thing, but we encourage you to come to us with any concerns as soon as possible. Early detection & lifestyle changes will help ensure the best possible outcome. So be sure to ask the dentist or the hygienist for your annual screening!