March 22, 2023

13 Symptoms of Oral Cancer – Here Are Some Possible Warning Signs

Each year, oral cancer, also known as oral cavity cancer, affects about 50,000 individuals annually in the U.S., with 70% of those being males. And about 25% of those who are diagnosed with oral cancer don’t smoke or have other known risk factors. Unfortunately, oral cancer will be the cause of death for about 10,000 individuals a year. There are various types of oral cancers with 90% being squamous cell carcinomas. Keep reading to learn about 13 symptoms of oral cancer. 

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancers include cancers found on:

  • the lips, 
  • gums,
  • inside of the cheeks,
  • tongue,
  • under your tongue,
  • area behind wisdom teeth, 
  • and the roof of your mouth.

Most oral cancers start as squamous cells. These are flat, thin cells that form in the mouth and throat lining. Early on, these cells start in the top layer of cells, called the epithelium. 

Those who have a history of smoking, using tobacco products, have had the human papillomavirus (HPV), or are heavy alcohol drinkers have an increased risk of oral cancer. Both tobacco and alcohol can damage cells in the mouth and throat which increases the chances of cancer. When cells are damaged, they must “fix” themselves and divide and copy. When this happens and DNA is being copied, your body can make essentially a mistake which leads to a greater possibility of these newly created cells turning into cancer. 

Can Oral Cavity Cancer be Prevented?

While oral cancer, like any cancer, can’t be prevented. There are steps to take and high-risk activities to avoid to help minimize risk factors that you can control. 

  • Avoid tobacco – both smoking or chewing 
  • Minimize alcohol use
  • Know your sex partners (oral cancers can be transmitted through oral sex)
  • Get the HPV vaccine 
  • Limit exposure to UV light
  • Wear a hat and sunscreen 
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Have healthy eating habits, including plant-based foods
  • Visit the dentist regularly 

Source: American Cancer Society 

What are the Top Symptoms of Oral Cancer? 

With oral cancer, the tricky part of identifying it is that it can often resemble other very common oral issues that are far less concerning like cold sores, cavities, TMJ, etc. Trust that you know your body best and that includes the inside of your mouth. 

Anytime you spot something that appears unusual for you, be proactive and call your primary care physician or family dentist. Early detection of oral cancer is key for the best prognosis.

So next time you’re brushing and flossing, keep an eye out for these common signs of oral cancer. Here are some of the potential signs to keep an eye out for the following:

  1. Sores that don’t heal
  2. Pain in the mouth that doesn’t resolve after a week
  3. Lumps or thickening in the lips, mouth, or cheeks
  4. Difficulty chewing, swallowing, moving the jaw or tongue
  5. Pain in ears 
  6. Loosening of adult teeth along with pain around teeth
  7. Any numbness in any area of the mouth
  8. Dentures that start to not fit well
  9. Velvety white, red, or speckled white and red patches on the inside of your mouth 
  10. Changes in your voice including a constant sore throat or hoarseness
  11. Dramatic and unexplained weight loss
  12. Sores that last and don’t heal after two weeks
  13. Unexplained bleeding

Sources: American Cancer Society and WebMD

How Does South Gables Dental Screen for Oral Cancer? 

Thank you for reading this resource on the 13 symptoms of oral cancer. At South Gables Dental, your overall well-being and dental health are our top priorities. During all of our patients’ routine cleanings, Dr. Lesperance, an oral cancer screening dentist, and his trained staff perform a thorough examination including screening for oral cancer. Over the years, they have spotted suspicious lesions and the beginnings of cancer in patients and have been able to have treatment before further spread. Make your appointment today. 

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