Oral cancer refers to cancer that develops in or on any part of the mouth. It can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated in its early stages because cancerous cells in this area of the body tend to become very aggressive.
Although oral cancer doesn’t always present obvious symptoms or pain, there are signs to look for which may indicate the need for further investigation. Your dentist will also always check your mouth for signs of cancerous cells during your regular dental checkups.
Cancer starts when cells suddenly begin to reproduce and grow uncontrollably, and they then invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue. It can occur anywhere in the body, and the cancer cells can spread (metastasize) to other organs and tissues. Oral cancer tends to first metastasize to the nearby lymph nodes.
Oral cancer can develop in any part of the oral cavity, including the lips, tongue, gums, inner lining of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth (palate), and floor of the mouth (under the tongue). It can also develop in the saliva glands or the tonsils.
Symptoms of Mouth Cancer
Many of the typical symptoms usually indicate less-serious conditions, such as an infection, but it is important to have them checked by your dentist.
The most common symptoms of oral cancer include:
- A sore or ulcer in the mouth or on the lip that doesn’t heal
- Unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth or lymph glands (under the sides of the jaw, at the top of the neck) that do not go away
Other symptoms of oral cancer can include:
- White or red patches on the lining inside of the mouth
- One or more loose teeth (for no obvious reason)
- Pain or difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Unexplained bleeding or numbness in the mouth
- Difficulty moving the jaw
- Chronic or intermittent pain in the mouth and/or ear
Risk Factors for Oral Cancer
Oral cancer cannot always be prevented, but there are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing oral cancer. These include:
- Using tobacco – including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, pipes, and snuff
- Heavy alcohol use
- Excessive sun exposure to the lips
- Weakened immune system
- Having the human papillomavirus (HPV) in your system – a sexually transmitted disease
There is also evidence that an unhealthy diet may increase the risk of developing certain types of mouth cancer.
A combination of smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol can particularly increase your risk of developing oral cancer. This is because both alcohol and tobacco are carcinogenic, meaning that they contain dangerous cancer-causing chemicals that can damage the DNA in cells.
Oral Cancer Screening in Minneapolis-St. Paul
Here at Hagerman Dental Care, we always provide oral cancer screening as part of your regular dental appointments. Our comprehensive dental services deliver the most effective treatment for preventing infections and cancers while also keeping your smile looking fantastic.
If you would like an oral cancer screening or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Hagerman, contact our friendly staff today by calling us at (651) 646-2392 or by filling out our appointment request form online now. We look forward to seeing you!