Did you know that you should be regularly screening yourself for oral cancer? Warning signs of significant health issues can first appear on the lips, teeth, or gums. Learn the signs of oral cancer so you can get the help you need right away.
Signs of Oral Cancer
You have a one in sixty chance of getting oral cancer in your lifetime. That may not sound too threatening, but any possibility of cancer can lead to serious illness and death if it goes untreated. Oral cancer is a cancer that can first appear as an everyday dental issue, and it can be easily missed if you’re not looking for it.
When dealing with cancer, early detection and treatment are key to a healthy recovery. So how can you tell the difference between a common cold sore versus something you should be taking much more seriously?
What Is Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer (also referred to as oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer) occurs when the DNA in your mouth mutates and begins to replicate incorrectly. It is similar in presentation and effect to many other skin cancers and often begins in the cells that make up the skin on the lips and gums. Most oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Doctors are not exactly sure why oral cancer occurs in some people and not in others, but they have identified some risk factors:
- Smoking, vaping, or any other tobacco use
- Alcohol dependency or alcohol consumption above medically advised limits
- Excessive ultraviolet (UV) exposure to lips
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Immune deficiencies
It is important to note that none of these risk factors need to be present for oral cancer to occur. However, if you do have one or more of the above risk factors in your life, it’s a good idea to be especially aware of the signs of oral cancer. You can also take steps to reduce your risk, such as quitting smoking or getting vaccinated for HPV.
What Should I Be Looking For?
You should check yourself for signs of oral cancer once per month. This should not be a quick and casual glance at your gums. Dentists recommend using a bright light and magnifying mirror, spending at least five minutes on a careful once-over. The goal is to spot any irregularities or new abnormalities since your last check. Signs of oral cancer can include:
- A lip or mouth sore that doesn’t heal. This can include canker sores, cold sores, or other everyday gum issues. If they do not resolve within a few weeks, you should consult with your dentist.
- A white or reddish patch inside your mouth that does not heal. This can include a red patch, white patch, or a patch that is mixed with red and white colors. These patches do not hurt, so you may not notice them without checking. These patches are almost always cancerous, and you should see a doctor about them right away.
- Mouth, ear, or throat pain without an apparent origin. This can be any unexplained pains in your mouth, ear, throat, or neck. It can also be pain caused by an action, such as swallowing.
- Unexplained lumps in the mouth or on the neck. Any unexplained growth can be evidence of cancer. If you find one, seek immediate medical attention.
When Should I See a Doctor?
If you have any symptoms that last beyond two weeks, you should consult a doctor about the issue. They will be able to test you for other potential causes of your symptoms, such as strep throat. If other diagnoses are eliminated, they will refer you to an oral cancer specialist for further testing and evaluation.
Oral cancer is scary, but it can be successfully treated in most cases. The key is early detection. Check yourself for these signs of oral cancer once per month, and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
Looking for an experienced, reliable, and friendly dentist near Springfield, Missouri? Contact Wilkinson Dental. Dr. Wilkinson and his team will give you the personalized treatment you deserve using state-of-the-art technology. For exceptional and comprehensive dental care, schedule your first appointment today by calling 417-708-0556 or requesting an appointment online. We look forward to hearing from you!