Did you know regular dental appointments serve a much bigger purpose for your health than just a cleaning and cavity check? During routine screenings, your dentist also looks for oral cancer symptoms and other health issues. So, don’t skip your next checkup! In the meantime, keep reading to learn the oral cancer signs you can spot between visits, what to expect from an oral cancer exam, and more.
6 Early Symptoms of Oral Cancer
Close to 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal (back of the tongue and throat) cancer every year. The good news? You can detect oral cancer earlier through regular self-exams and screenings at dental appointments every six months. This is important because a cure is more likely when oral cancer is caught at an early stage.
While mouth cancer detection is a normal part of dental checkups, it’s also important for you to know about oral cancer early signs. So, here are six of the earliest oral cancer symptoms to watch out for.
- Lip or mouth sores that don’t heal after two weeks: Canker sores or fever blisters are a common annoyance, but sores in the lip or mouth that fail to heal within two weeks might indicate a more significant underlying issue, such as oral cancer.
- Red or white patches on your lips or mouth: The appearance of abnormal red or white patches on the lips or inside the mouth can be a potential sign of oral cancer. If you notice these patches, seek medical attention for further examination.
- Unexplained numbness in the face, neck, or mouth: Unexplained numbness in the face, neck, or mouth can be a concerning symptom that warrants medical evaluation. Numbness in these areas may be associated with oral cancer or other underlying conditions. Since facial numbness is also associated with stroke, you should seek medical attention immediately if the numbness comes on suddenly or is experienced with other symptoms, like confusion, speech difficulty, severe headache, or face drooping.
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing: Especially without any known pre-existing conditions, difficulty swallowing and chewing may indicate the presence of oral cancer or other medical concerns.
- Hoarseness or sore throat: While hoarseness and a sore throat can be caused by various factors, like respiratory infections, reflux disease, or vocal strain, they can also be potential signs of oral cancer.
- Loose teeth: If your teeth loosen and you don’t have a history of dental problems, call your dentist. This symptom could indicate oral cancer or other oral health issues that require professional treatment.
What to Expect from an Oral Cancer Screening at Dentist Offices
Your dentist will likely perform this routine exam while they check for cavities. They’ll examine your mouth, gums, cheeks, and tongue for suspicious bumps, abnormalities, loose teeth, or swelling. If they see any signs of concern, they’ll order further testing.
As with any illness, early oral cancer detection is critical. So, if you’ve noticed any invisible symptoms like hoarseness or numbness, let your dentist know.
Common Risk Factors — Plus, Tips for Prevention
While oral cancer can affect anyone, it’s most common in men over age 50. Certain factors can increase your risk of developing the disease.
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol use
- Family history
- Sun exposure
Here are five ways you can reduce your risk of oral cancer…
- Quit smoking or using tobacco products.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Use a high SPF sun block to protect your lips from the sun.
- See your dentist every six months for regular checkups.
Schedule an Appointment Today to Check for Oral Cancer Symptoms
Early detection of oral cancer is crucial for successful treatment and improved outcomes. So, don’t delay your next appointment.