What is oral cancer?

When you visit your dentist for a checkup, they are not just looking for decay and cleaning your teeth. The dentist also examines your gums and the inside of your mouth thoroughly to look for other oral health issues, such as signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer occurs inside your mouth or in your throat, with a variety of different symptoms associated with it. Here are some things to know about this type of cancer.

Who is at risk of getting oral cancer?

Like many types of cancers, anyone can develop oral cancer, though some people do have a higher risk of getting it. It is often linked to unhealthy habits, such as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, as they both lower your immune system. This is not uncommon of other types of cancers as well. Having the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection can also increase your risk for getting oral cancer. Some other risk factors include being an older adult, having excessive exposure to the sun, and following an unhealthy diet. Your dentist can inform you of other risk factors so you know to be on the lookout for them and can try to prevent this type of cancer if at all possible.

What symptoms should you look for?

You should self-examine the inside of your mouth, gums, tongue, and lips to find early symptoms of oral cancer. The sooner you find these symptoms and seek medical help, the sooner you can start treatments. For example, if you notice white and red patches of skin inside your mouth, particularly on the sides of your mouth or inside your bottom lip, you should seek medical help. Other possible symptoms include having lumps or bumps on your gums or inside your mouth, sores on your face or neck that bleed and don't heal quickly, and numbness or tenderness around your face or mouth. You might also feel like there is something in the back of your throat, or that you have difficulty chewing and swallowing on a regular basis.

What types of treatments are available?

If you suspect that you might have oral cancer, the first thing you should do is make an appointment with your dentist. They will examine your mouth thoroughly and look for signs of cancer. If they believe you have symptoms of this cancer, they will perform a series of tests, such as taking a sample for a biopsy or sending you for imaging tests. If you are diagnosed with oral cancer, you will likely be instructed to go through radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Surgery may also be needed for tumors related to the oral cancer.

Regular dental check-ups can help your dentist look for early warning signs of oral cancer. This improves your chances of getting adequate treatment by catching it early.