Oral Cancer

Unfortunately, cancer can occur anywhere, including the mouth. Early detection of oral cancer is critical in ensuring the best treatment outcome and a positive prognosis. Dental professionals go beyond just focusing on your teeth—they examine each area of your oral cavity. Routine oral exams performed by Dr. Williams can help identify any early signs of oral cancers or concerns.

Where Can Oral Cancer Appear?

Oral cancer is categorized into two unique groups based on its location:

  • Oral cancers that occur within the oral cavity (lips, inside of the lips, teeth, gums, cheeks, tongue, and roof of the mouth)
  • Oral cancers that occur in the oropharynx (the middle region of the throat, which includes the base of the tongue and tonsils).

The Symptoms of Oral Cancer

It’s important to understand the symptoms of oral cancers and visit your dentist if they do not resolve within two weeks:

  • White or red patches within the mouth
  • Pain, numbness, or tenderness of the mouth or lips
  • Persistent sores or irritation within the mouth or lips
  • Changes in the way your bite feels or how teeth fit together
  • Rough, lumpy, thick, crusty, or eroded areas
  • Difficulty speaking, swallowing, chewing, or moving your jaw or mouth

Some people who are diagnosed with oral cancer report that they feel a sensation like something is caught in their throat. Others may experience hoarseness, throat numbness, or changes to their voice. Should you experience any of the above symptoms, be sure to let Dr. Williams know.

Risk Factors for Oral Cancer

There are numerous risk factors for oral cancer that may increase your risk of developing them. The following are risk factors for oral cancer:

  • Gender: Male patients are twice as likely to get oral cancer as opposed to women.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use: Those who smoke tobacco or drink alcohol excessively and are over the age of 50 years old are at risk for oral cancers.
  • HPV: The sexually transmitted disease, human papillomavirus, shortened to HPV, is linked to throat cancers. Even those individuals who do no smoke are susceptible to HPV-positive head and neck cancers. These are typically found near the base of the tongue or tonsil folds, making them incredibly challenging to identify without a professional examination. Early diagnosis of these HPV-positive cancers ensures the best outcome for the affected individual. Regular dental check-ups are a must to detect and remove these before they affect one’s quality of life.

Your Dentist Can Help Detect Early Oral Cancer

During a routine dental visit, Dr. Williams always inquires about any changes in your medical history or whether you have experienced anything unusual or new since your last appointment. These signs can help him home in on any specific areas of concern before he begins his comprehensive exam.

He completes a thorough check of your oral cavity, including your tongue, lips, gums, cheek lining, plus the floor and roof of your mouth. An examination of your throat, tonsils, back of your tongue, and jaw is also an important dental exam component.

What Happens if My Dentist Finds Something Suspicious?

If Dr. Williams notices anything of concern, he may refer you to a specialist for further testing. Don’t panic—it’s unlikely any medical professional can tell whether an area is cancerous just by looking at it. 

Typically, further diagnostics are involved in getting a definitive diagnosis. A specialist may elect to examine cells from the questionable spot under a microscope or may wish to excise a portion of the area, also known as a biopsy. Together with the specialist’s findings, you and Dr. Williams can create a strategy for the best treatment plan and prevention.

Oral Cancer Prevention

The most essential thing to be aware of when aiming to prevent oral cancers is the risk factors. Excessive drinking, smoking, poor diet, and, unfortunately for men, gender can influence one’s risk of getting oral cancer. Specific strains of HPV, the human papillomavirus, can also put you at an increased risk. A vaccine is available for both teenaged boys and girls, which protects against harmful strains of HPV. Additionally, those who have had oral cancers in the past are more likely to develop it again in the future and should adhere to strict regular dental visits. 

Stay On Top of Early Oral Cancer Detection with Routine Dental Exams

By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, remaining aware of risk factors, and scheduling routine dental exams with Dr. Williams, you can lower your risk of getting oral cancers. Should you notice any unusual areas or have concerns about your risk for oral cancer, please reach out to our compassionate team at Ascent Family Dental.