Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer

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Every April, we recognize Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month. The Oral Cancer Foundation tells us that nearly 54,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer this year. While smoking and alcohol consumption have long been known as risk factors, oral cancer among young non-smokers has steadily increased due to HPV16 — the same virus that causes more than 90% of all cervical cancers. The American Dental Association notes that dentists are often the first to spot signs of oral cancer during a regular dental exam, one of the many reasons it is important to keep up with routine visits. 

Oral Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Although your dentist will check for any indication of oral cancer during your exam, it’s helpful to know the signs. The American Cancer Society recommends letting your doctor or dentist know if any of the following symptoms last longer than two weeks:

  • A sore on the lip or in the mouth.
  • Pain in the mouth.
  • A lump or thickening in the lips, mouth or cheek.
  • A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil or lining of the mouth.
  • A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in your throat.
  • Trouble chewing, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue.
  • Numbness of the tongue, lip or other area of the mouth.
  • Swelling or pain in the jaw.
  • Loose teeth or dentures.
  • Voice changes.
  • A lump or mass in the neck or back of the throat.

Thankfully, having an oral cancer screening during a routine dental exam is the best way to detect oral cancer in its early stages, when treatment outcomes are much better. In between visits, you can even perform a self-exam using this guide from the American Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons. 

Schedule your next visit today and be sure to ask us about oral cancer screenings. Remember, a healthy smile means a healthier you!

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