9 Often Ignored Symptoms Of Oral Cancer

April showers bring May flowers AND oral cancer awareness!

That’s right, April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Why should you care? Because 50,000 Americans are diagnosed every year with oral cancer.  Even though survival rates are pretty high, the key to successful treatment is early diagnosis. Luckily, you’re already scheduled to see the only health care provider who is looking in your mouth every 6 months, right?! Your dentist is usually the first to detect any changes in the oral cavity. Every time you come in for a cleaning and exam, we’re looking for any irregularities or abnormalities that could potentially be or become cancerous. But, in between those visits, it’s a good idea to look out for the following symptoms… and just a disclaimer, most of the symptoms listed below are VERY common and usually NOT cancerous. But, if it persists for more than two weeks, you should have it checked out.

1. Mouth sores

These lesions can be red or white, are typically painless and can pop up out of nowhere. These types of sores can also bleed spontaneously. Most often, the lesion is a cold sore or traumatic ulcer, which tend to resolve on their own after 7-10 days.

2. Lumps, bumps or rough patches

These you’ll typically notice with your tongue. (it’s got loads of nerve endings to make even the tiniest things feel huge!) Roughening on the inside of your cheeks does occur frequently, especially if you’re a cheek biter. But, if it continues to spread or a bump increases in size, that’s an indication it should be looked at.

3. Loose teeth

If you’ve had healthy teeth all your life and suddenly one to a few teeth in an area become loose, this could be an indication that there’s a growth that may be pushing the teeth out of the way.

4. Difficult or painful swallowing or a sore throat

Again, this is a common symptom but if swallowing becomes increasingly difficult or painful, or if you’re having trouble keeping food down, that’s an red flag to see a doctor. A persistent sore throat can also be an indication that something is amiss.

5.Ear pain on one side

I know, this one is bizarre. But, there’s a nerve in the lower jaw that can sometimes refer pain to the ear.  It will typically only appear on one side. So, if you have persistent pain and the teeth in the area have been ruled out as a source, there could be something else going on.

6. Altered Sensation

If a lesion gets big enough, it can interfere with nerve signals that can lead to numbness in certain areas of the mouth. You can also have your sense of taste altered or lost completely. Typically, this symptom doesn’t just come out of nowhere—there’s usually a progression of symptoms or pain leading up to this point. Numbness in certain areas of the mouth may not be readily apparent, but secondary symptoms such as drooling or trouble chewing may be noticeable.

7. Ill-fitting dentures or appliances

If you have a denture or other removable dental appliance that no longer fits, chances are that it’s just time for a new one. But, if you recently had a new one made or over time the fit has gotten significantly worse, there may be a growth that’s causing things to shift.

8. Trouble moving your jaw or speaking

Jaw pain alone is very common and usually can be attributed to mild temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. However, when it’s accompanied by swelling, ill fitting prostheses or your bite feeling way off, that may be an indication to have it checked by a doctor.

9. Pain

Persistent pain of any kind is your body’s way of telling you that there’s something going on. So, if you’re having pain that does not resolve in your mouth, teeth, tongue, cheeks, throat or lips, let your dentist know. Even if it’s something that can be easily resolved, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Now, before you start searching all of these symptoms on WedMD and convincing yourself you only have 24 hours to live, let me be the first to say that everything is likely fine. But to be safe, make an appointment with your dentist and have them take a look. Here at Gallery57Dental, we’ve got tools like a Velscope and 3D imaging to help us take a closer look if anything seems suspicious. Any questions? Leave us a comment below!

Getting Personal About HPV and Oral Cancer

Dr. Samantha Rawdin gets personal about HPV and Oral Cancer:

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and as a member of the medical community dealing directly with the oropharynx (including the mouth and throat), this is something that we feel our patients and readers should be aware of. Although it doesn’t always get the attention that other types of cancer receive, oral cancer is still a prevalent issue in the U.S. Almost 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year and one person every hour of every day will die from it.

Tobacco use and alcohol consumption still remain the greatest risk factors for developing oropharyngeal cancer, but the fastest growing population of people being diagnosed are young, healthy, non-smoking individuals with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Now, this is where things get a little weird. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can occasionally manifest in the oral cavity. Since your dentist is usually the only one examining your mouth on a regular basis, finding one of these lesions can lead to conversations you wouldn’t otherwise expect to have with your oral health care specialist.

According to an article this week in the New York Times, more than forty-two percent of Americans bewteen the ages of 18-59 are infected with HPV. In adults aged 18-69, 7% have an oral HPV infection and 4% have the high-risk strains that can cause cancer in the mouth and throat.

The good news? Over 90% of HPV infections are gone from the body within 2 years.  But, just to be on the safe side, make sure your dental professional is doing a thorough oral cancer screening. And don’t feel bad about asking– it’s something that should be a routine part of their examination anyway. If you see or feel something that’s not quite right in your mouth or throat that sticks around for longer than two weeks, such as discoloration, swelling or irritation, make an appointment to see your dentist or doctor. If you are visiting them on a regular basis, changes will be easier to spot and may be easier to manage.