The inside of the mouth is normally lined with a special type of skin (mucosa) that is smooth and coral pink in color. Any alteration in this appearance could be a warning sign for a pathological process. The most serious of these is oral cancer.
These changes can be detected on the lips, cheeks, palate, and gum tissue around the teeth, tongue, face and/or neck. Pain does not always occur with pathology, and curiously, is not often associated with oral cancer. However, any patient with facial and/or oral pain without an obvious cause or reason may also be at risk for oral cancer.
Our doctors recommend performing an oral cancer self-examination monthly and remember that your mouth is one of your body’s most important warning systems. Do not ignore suspicious lumps or sores. The Oral Cancer Foundation estimates that close to 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. Oral cancer’s mortality is particularly high, not because it is hard to detect or diagnose, but because the cancer is often discovered late in its development.
Perform An Oral Cancer Self-Exam Each Month
Everyone should perform an oral cancer self-exam each month. An oral examination is performed using a bright light and a mirror:
- Remove any dentures
- Look and feel inside the lips and the front of gums
- Tilt head back to inspect and feel the roof of your mouth
- Pull the cheek out to see its inside surface as well as the back of the gums
- Pull out your tongue and look at all of its surfaces
- Feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in both sides of the neck including under the lower jaw
When performing a self-examination, look for the following:
- White patches of the oral tissues which might indicate leukoplakia
- Red patches which might indicate erythroplakia
- Red and white patches which might indicate erythroleukoplakia
- A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
- An abnormal lump or thickening of the tissues of the mouth
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing
- A mass or lump in the neck
Should you discover something out of the ordinary, make an appointment with Foothills Oral Surgery for a prompt examination. Early treatment may well be the key to complete recovery.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What does oral cancer look like?
Oral cancer affects the individual’s lips, tongue, gums, roof and/or floor of the mouth, and the insides of the cheeks. It can also affect the tonsils, upper throat, or soft palate (where the roof of the mouth meets the throat). Oral cancer may appear in the form of ulcers and lumps that don’t heal even after several weeks. Unexplained loose teeth or sockets that do not heal after extractions can also indicate oral cancer.
What causes oral cancer?
Oral cancer is caused when cells on the lips or in the mouth undergo changes or mutations in their DNA. Because of the mutations, the cells grow and divide even after the healthy cells have died, allowing abnormal cancer cells to accumulate and eventually result in a tumor. Over time, the cells spread throughout the mouth, resulting in mouth cancer.
How to prevent oral cancer?
There’s no proven way to prevent oral cancer, but you can take certain steps to decrease the risk. These include:
- Avoiding tobacco in any form, including cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff, and so on
- Saying no to heavy alcohol use
- Avoiding excessive sun exposure to your lips
- Visiting your dentist regularly for routine dental examinations
How do you know if you have oral cancer?
You can be sure of having oral cancer only after a professional diagnosis. Dentists are able to detect oral cancer during their routine checkups. If they see any sign of cancer, they’ll carefully examine your mouth, throat, jaw, and neck to look for lumps or patches. If they discover something unusual, a biopsy may be performed to ascertain or dismiss the presence of cancer.
What are the symptoms of oral cancer?
Some of the common symptoms of oral cancer are:
- Lip or mouth ulcer/sore that doesn’t heal
- Lump inside your mouth
- White or reddish patch on the inside of your mouth
- Loose teeth
- Difficult or painful swallowing
- Ear pain