Oral Cancer: The Silent Killer in the Mouth

Oral Cancer Awareness Month RibbonOral cancer can be deadly, but if caught early enough, it is highly treatable. Dentists are at the forefront of detecting oral cancer in its early stages. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 54,000 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed in 2022.

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer refers to any form of cancer involving the mouth, including cancer on the lips, tongue, gums, the inside of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth, back of the throat, or under the tongue. It is most common in adults over the age of 60 and is the most common form of head and neck cancer.

Squamous cells in the mouth become cancerous when their DNA mutates, leading to cell proliferation. These cancerous cells, left untreated, can spread to other areas of the mouth and eventually other parts of your body.

Know the Symptoms of Oral Cancer

  • A sore on the mouth or lip that does not heal (it may resemble a cold sore)
  • Reddish and whitish patches on the inside of the cheeks, on the gums, or on the tongue
  • A lump or hard blister inside your mouth
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Earaches
  • The feeling of something caught in the throat
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Crusty or scaly areas inside the mouth that do not go away

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How is Oral Cancer a “Silent Killer?”
Most people do not know they have oral cancer until it progresses because it is rarely painful until later. Since the symptoms are not alarming in their early stage, people often miss them. Many people overlook the early warning signs of cancer because they seem like minor nuisances. Oral cancer on the lip may be mistaken for a cold sore, for instance. The symptoms can also be difficult to spot if the first lesions are inside the mouth, where they are difficult to see. For this reason, it is essential to see your dentist regularly. They are trained to spot the early signs of oral cancer so you can get treated effectively.

Who Is At Risk for Oral Cancer?

Anyone can develop oral cancer, but certain people fall into a higher risk group, including anyone who:

  • Uses any kind of tobacco, including cigars, cigarettes, pipes, snuff, and chewing tobacco
  • Drinks alcohol excessively
  • Has the human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Suffers from a weakened or suppressed immune system.
  • Has had their lips sunburned multiple times
  • Men are more than twice as likely to get oral cancer as women

Your Dentist’s Role in Detecting Oral Cancer

There are a few things you can do to minimize your risk of oral cancer. Quit smoking, reduce your alcohol consumption, and always use a lip balm with sunscreen when outdoors to start. The HPV vaccine is also an option to protect you from contracting the Human Papilloma Virus. Perhaps the most important thing is to see your dentist every six months. Dentists and dental hygienists are trained and experienced in spotting the early signs of oral cancer.

Your dentist checks for oral cancer during your dental exam at your routine dental appointment. They carefully examine the inside of your mouth, under your tongue, and on your gum line, looking for lesions, bumps, or discolorations that may be pre-cancerous or in the early stages of oral cancer. If they spot any concerning areas, they gently scrape the area to get cells for a biopsy. If additional tests are needed, you are referred to an oncologist or other specialists such as ear, nose, and throat practitioners.

See Your Dentist Regularly

Twice yearly visits to your dentist are crucial to healthy teeth and gums and early detection of oral cancer. If you have not seen the dentist in that time, particularly if you are in a high-risk group for oral cancer, contact our office at Main Line Dental Group Phone Number 610-971-0717 to schedule an appointment. Together, we can reduce your risk and prevent the spread of oral cancer to other areas of the body.