About 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral or oropharyngeal cancer each year, leading to more than 9,750 deaths, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Oral cancer includes any cancer that develops anywhere in the mouth, such as lips, gums, tongue, under the tongue, cheek lining, and roof of mouth.

Mouth cancer is grouped in a category called head and neck cancers. It’s important to stay on top of this risk by having your dentist check your mouth whenever you go for a dental checkup. In fact, oral cancer screenings should be included as part of your preventative dentistry visits twice a year.

As you can tell from the stats, oral cancer is a very serious condition that can and should be detected as early as possible if you want the best chance of treating it.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Your dentist will look for the following signs of oral cancer when doing your routine exam twice a year:

  • Numbness, loss of feeling, or tenderness and pain in the neck, face, or mouth.
  • Swelling, thickening, rough spots, lumps or bumps, crusty areas, or eroded areas on the gums and lips.
  • Velvety red, white, or speckled patches in the mouth.
  • Unexplained mouth bleeding.
  • Persistent sores on the face, neck or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal within two weeks’ time.

Bring the following symptoms to the attention of your dentist if you have:

  • A hard time speaking, chewing, swallowing, or moving your tongue or jaw.
  • A feeling as if something is constantly caught in the back of the throat.
  • A change in voice.
  • A hoarse voice.
  • Dramatic, unexplained weight loss.
  • Ear pain.

Your dentist should be apprised of these symptoms immediately, so always be forthcoming.

What Are the Risk Factors?

From smoking to family history, there are a few risk factors for oral cancer that you should be aware of.

  • Being male: Men have twice the risk of contracting oral cancer as women do.
  • Men older than 50.
  • Smoking cigarettes, pipes, and cigars: Smokers are 6x more likely than non-smokers to get oral cancers.
  • Smokeless tobacco: If you dip, snuff or chew tobacco products, you are 50x more likely to develop oral cancers.
  • Vaping: Those who vape are at an elevated risk of lung and oral cancers, although the risk isn’t as high as tobacco smokers.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption: Drinkers are 6x more likely to get oral cancer than non-drinkers.
  • Family history of cancer
  • Excessive early sun exposure
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)

You can still get oral cancer even if you don’t have any of the above vices, such as smoking or drinking. That’s because more than 25 percent of all oral cancers affect people who only drink alcohol occasionally or people who have never touched a cigarette.

This drives the importance home even more of getting twice-annual oral cancer screenings.

Why Get Regular Oral Cancer Screenings?

While you may be more concerned with getting the plaque scraped off your teeth or getting your pearly whites buffed up, early cancer examinations are equally as necessary, if not more so. They can actually save your life. Here’s why those screenings are so important:

  • Early detection of cancer – When your dentist can catch cancer early, this gives you a much better chance of treating and curing it as opposed to waiting until the cancer enters later, more advanced stages.
  • To determine risk factors – There is no guarantee one will ever get cancer in their lifetime, or not get it. But there are always risk factors involved that you should be aware of. Without regular screenings, it’s difficult to determine your risk level when it comes to oral cancer.
  • To establish a baseline – When you have a cancer screening every six months, your dentist will be able to determine a baseline so that if you come in one visit and he or she detects changes from the last time, action can be taken.
  • To prevent mouth cancer – Screenings can determine that you don’t have cancer but those appointments are also valuable because they give your dentist an opportunity to highlight how you can prevent cancer from occurring in the future through lifestyle changes. This is especially important if you are considered a high-risk patient.

Book Your Oral Cancer Screening With Ashby Dental in Elmwood

In most cases, you don’t have to book a special appointment to get an oral cancer screening. Our dentists check automatically when you come in for a routine cleaning. But if you notice any of the above symptoms in between regular visits, don’t hesitate to book your appointment with us at (510) 549-0133. We are located at 2507 Ashby Ave. in Berkeley, CA and our hours are Mon – Thu 8am to 4pm and Fridays 8am to 1pm.