April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Sponsored by The Oral Care Foundation and supported by the major professional dental associations, the goal is to raise awareness of this potentially killer disease. The Foundation reports that almost 50,000 people are diagnosed every year with some form of cancer of the mouth and upper throat. Of those, only about 60% manage to live more than five years after their diagnosis. Those who do survive often suffer with speech difficulties, problems eating, or facial disfigurement.
Oral cancer is highly treatable when detected early. It is usually discovered much too late, though, and results in a disturbingly high death rate, with almost 9,000 people a year lost to this disease. Additional factors that increase the risk of getting oral cancer include exposure to HPV, smoking or chewing tobacco, and drinking alcohol in combination with smoking. Other conditions that might allow the cancer to flourish include poor oral hygiene, physical trauma to the mouth and head, poor nutrition, and infectious diseases.
How to Detect Early Warning Signs of Oral Cancer
Your dentist always checks your teeth, gums, and mouth for any signs of disease. If you are in constant pain or experience unusual bleeding, contact a medical professional immediately. If you are concerned about the possibility of getting oral cancer, here are the top three early warning signs to look for:
- Prolonged sore throat: Your throat may become sore for many reasons, but it may be an early indicator of a larger problem if it stays sore for a prolonged period. If you experience a sore throat or unusual hoarseness for more than a few days, make an appointment with your medical professional to have it checked out.
- Abnormal sores or lumps: If you notice any lumps or thickness in your mouth, tongue, throat or neck, it could be swelling due to normal inflammation or some type of infection, but it could also indicate the onset of oral cancer. If these conditions lead to continued problems with speaking, chewing or swallowing, it is always best to be examined by a medical professional.
- Unusual patches: If you experience numbness or notice red or white patches in your mouth, throat, tonsils or gums, it might be an advanced form of strep, but it could also indicate something more concerning.
Although it is best to have a dental professional conduct an in-depth examination at regular appointments, there are some steps you can take at home using a mirror and bright light to look for early signs of oral cancer:
Remove any dentures, bridges, or oral appliances.
Perform a visual inspection of your lips, gums, and the inside of your cheeks.
Run your fingers along the insides of your mouth for any unusual bumps or lumps.
Pull the cheeks out to better see their surface as well as the gum area.
Gently lift up your tongue and look underneath for white or red patchy areas.
Be sure to tilt your head back so you can see the roof of your mouth.
Feel the lymph nodes on both sides of your neck to look for signs of inflammation.
Make oral health a priority in your life. Take time in April and every month to look for the top three early warning signs of oral cancer and follow-up immediately if you think something is wrong.
Williams & Daily Dental is a family and cosmetic dentist located in North Raleigh, NC with a team of dedicated dentists enthusiastic in their commitment to their patients. We offer dental implants, Invisalign teeth straightening, in-office and home teeth whitening options, and Oral-B electric toothbrushes. Contact Williams & Daily at (919) 846-9070 for more information and to schedule an appointment today.