Chairside Talk

Mouth Sores Reveal More than the Obvious

Oral Cancer Observation

I can’t tell you how many times I have asked a patient about a sore in their mouth that they were completely unaware of. Everyone gets sores in the mouth, that’s just the nature of the beast. Some hurt, some bleed, some feel like a pimple and some have no symptoms. By knowing yourself, you can help determine when a health professional needs to step in.

Cancer is a major killer in the United States. The Oral Cancer Foundation, www.oralcancerfoundation.org estimates about 49,750 new cases of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States. This is up 10% from 10 years ago! Cancer can originate in the mouth or show up in the mouth indicative of cancer elsewhere in the body.

Cancerous lesions occur mostly on the tongue, the floor of the mouth, the lip and the minor salivary glands, but can present itself anywhere. It often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or white and red spot or sore in the mouth. Other signs include:

  • A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal in the mouth or on the lips
  • A color change of the oral tissue
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
  • A change in the way the teeth fit together
Below are some risk factors to consider for assessing your susceptibility:
  • Tobacco use – 9 out of 10 people with oral cancer use or used to use tobacco
  • Heavy drinking – increases a smokers risk for developing oral cancer
  • Gender – oral cancer is twice as common in men as in women
  • UV light – cancer on the lips is common in people who have outdoor jobs
  • Poor Nutrition – diets low in fruit and vegetables have an increased risk for oral cancer
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – the virus responsible for warts has over 100 viral stains. Many are linked to the development of many types of cancer and type HPV 16 are found in oral cancer
  • Age – oral cancer is more likely to strike after the age of 40
  • Lichen Planus – a disease that affects the skin can sometimes affect the lining of the mouth and throat. A severe case may increase the risk for oral cancer

It is recommended that patients look at their mouths in a mirror daily to check for abnormalities. Although some cancers are asymptomatic until a later stage of cancer, it’s still important to familiarize yourself with how your mouth looks. It also helps being familiar with your health history and any medical conditions.

Routine dental checkups and doctor exams typically include annual cancer screenings, remember to see your dentist often.

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