Each year about 49,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with oral cancer. This type of cancer occurs most commonly in the tongue, cheeks, throat, floor of the mouth, lips and minor salivary glands. Mouth cancers are more common in people over 40, particularly men.
The first sign of oral cancer is often a small red or white spot or sore toward the back of the mouth or under the tongue. This makes it tough to spot.
Oral cancer can also appear as a painless mouth ulcer that does not heal normally. Be aware of any unusual lumps in your mouth or jaw area and any persistent hoarseness. Difficulty or pain while chewing or swallowing are also signs of oral cancer. If any of these symptoms don’t resolve themselves in a short period, schedule an appointment with your dentist.
Historically the death rate associated with oral cancer is particularly high, because it’s usually discovered late in its development. Early detection is key to increasing your chances.
The following factors increase your risk for oral cancer:
As part of your regular twice-yearly office visit, the dentist will conduct a screening for oral cancer. It takes just a few minutes but increases the chance that any potentially cancerous or precancerous lesions will be caught early and successfully treated. Your dentist will carefully inspect the following areas for sores, spots, and lumps:
Also, be sure to tell your dentist if you’ve noticed symptoms like a sore in your mouth that doesn’t heal, a lump, or pain or numbness anywhere in your mouth or on your lips.
Soreness and swelling from surgery can make it uncomfortable to chew and swallow. The removal of larger tumors could also affect your ability to talk as well as you did before the surgery.
Cells in your mouth are sensitive to radiation. Thus, radiation in area of the mouth, neck, or chest can make foods taste bitter or metallic, or give you dry mouth. Other side effects can include:
Chemotherapy slows down the ability of oral tissue to repair itself by making new cells. It can also upset the healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth.
Florida Blue Dental’s Oral Health for Overall Health program provides plan members with oral cancer enhanced dental benefits when enrolled in our program. These benefits have been shown to improve not only oral health, but also help you better manage your condition.
Learn more about the enrollment process.