Did you know nearly 150 Americans will be newly diagnosed with mouth cancers every day, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation? Most are found as late-stage cancers, with a death rate of about 43 percent at five years from diagnosis.
We know these sound like some pretty scary stats. But with early detection, oral cancers can have an 80 to 90 percent survival rate. And your dentist is often the first person, next to you, who will spot the first signs against these deadly diseases—so don’t skip those bi-annual dental checkups.
It’s common to focus mostly on what’s happening with your teeth with dental care, but watch for any changes to your oral health. Oral cancers appear anywhere within the oral cavity, including the tongue, under the tongue, lips, roof of the mouth, and lining of the cheek. Tobacco and alcohol use, along with exposure to the HPV-16 virus, are the most common causes.
8 Signs You May be at Risk:
- Suspicious Lump
Don’t ignore any persistent lumps or growths anywhere in your mouth or neck. Cancerous lumps may or may not feel painful, and they won’t disappear on their own. Once you feel and see something like this, get to a doctor ASAP.
- Lingering Sores
Lots of us get pesky canker sores—and they’re usually more annoying-painful than serious. But ulcers or other sores that aren’t healing are the most common signs of oral cancer. If your ulcer hasn’t healed within two weeks, get it checked out.
- Nagging Pain
Pain is tricky as it’s easy to write off as something much less serious than cancer, like a cavity or damaged tooth. But pain can also stem from cancerous sores not healing or from deeper cancerous growths pressing on a nerve.
- Trouble Swallowing
Feel like there’s always something stuck in your throat? Struggling to swallow? Get checked out. Cancerous growths can prevent you from swallowing normally.
- Lack of Sensation
Cancerous growths can press against nerves, causing numbness. If you’re experiencing persistent tingling or numbness in your mouth, don’t ignore it.
- Unusual Patches
Often a minor irritation or infection will cause white or red patches to appear on the lining of your mouth, tongue, gums, or tonsils. But patches like these that haven’t disappeared in a week or two, or that are growing in size, could be a sign of something more serious.
- Funky Breath
Breath still not smelling great after you brush and/or use mouthwash? While mouth odor is often caused from a rotting tooth, medication use, or halitosis, it can also indicate an issue in the mouth or deeper in the oral cavity.
- Wiggly Teeth
Yikes! Unless you’ve had recent dental work and there’s a logical explanation for your teeth loosening, don’t ignore this one. Cellular changes or a cancerous growth in your jaw can cause teeth to loosen.
Fortunately for our patients at Loudoun Smile Center, we are longtime advocates for complete health dentistry, so an oral health screening is part of your dental care checkup. We’ll check your neck and mouth for lumps, examine the inside of your mouth, gums, roof of your mouth, and tongue for any abnormalities, and of course ask if you’ve had any changes to your dental health. We go the extra mile by also using the Velscope enhanced oral assessment system, which provides a comprehensive view of oral lesions and helps ensure we don’t miss epithelial changes.
If you have any concerns about your oral health or risk for oral cancer, reach out before or during your next visit!