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Oral cancer is divided into two categories – those occurring in the oral cavity (your lips, the inside of your lips and cheeks, teeth, gums, the front two-thirds of your tongue and the floor and roof of your mouth) and those occurring in the oropharynx (middle region of the throat, including the tonsils and base of the tongue). Together, these cancers account for 2.9% of all cancers in the United States. Early detection may result in better treatment outcomes and may help keep you or someone you love from becoming one of the 9,750 people whose lives may be claimed this year by the disease.

What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?

It’s important to be aware of the following signs and symptoms and to see us if they do not disappear after two weeks.

  • A sore or irritation that doesn’t go away
  • Red or white patches
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth

What Are the Risk Factors for Oral Cancer?

Research has identified a number of factors that increase the risk of developing oral cancers. Men are twice more likely to get oral cancer than women. Smokers, excessive alcohol drinkers, and those older than 50 are the most at-risk.

The human papillomavirus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted, has also been associated with throat cancers at the back of the mouth. HPV-positive head and neck cancers are related to the rise in throat cancers in non-smoking adults. Regular dental checkups that include an examination of the entire head and neck can be vital in detecting cancer early.

How Can We Help Detect Oral Cancer Early?

During your regular exam, we will ask you about changes in your medical history and whether you’ve been having any new or unusual symptoms.

Then, the dentist will check your oral cavity. This includes your lips, cheek lining, gums, the front part of your tongue, the floor of your mouth and the roof of your mouth. The dentist will also examine your throat (pharynx) at the soft part at the roof of your mouth, including your tonsils, the back section of your tongue and where your tongue attaches to the bottom of your mouth. They will then feel your jaw and neck for any lumps or abnormalities.