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.
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!