A Closer Look at Oral Cancer

Oral cancer refers to any cancerous tissue growth located in the mouth. It’s one of the most common types of cancers, with about 35,000 new cases reported each year in the U.S. The most frequent oral cancer sites are the tongue, the floor of the mouth and soft palate tissues in back of the tongue, lips and gums. If oral cancer isn’t detected and treated in its early stages, it can spread, leading to chronic pain, loss of function, irreparable facial and oral disfigurement following surgery and eventually death. The good news is that it is now easier than ever to spot oral cancer early. Dentists are trained to spot the signs associated with oral cancer, and have the education and skills to ensure that early signs of cancer and pre-cancerous conditions are identified. Dr. Williamson at Raleigh Comprehensive and Cosmetic Dentistry is well aware of the prevalence and seriousness of the disease and is prepared to take the proper steps that are needed if oral cancer is detected.

Oral Cancer Signs and Risk Factors

Oral cancer often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth. It can affect any area, including the lips, gum tissue, lining of the cheek, tongue, and hard or soft palate. Other signs include:

  • A sore that bleeds easily or does not heal
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
  • A color change of the oral tissues
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, or small eroded area
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue.

Oral cancer most often occurs in people who use tobacco in any form, whether it be smoking or chewing. Alcohol use combined with smoking also greatly increases the risk of developing oral cancer. In fact, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, the risk is 15 times higher in those who both smoke and drink compared to people who do not smoke or drink. Also, prolonged exposure to the sun increases the risk of oral cancer found on the lips. And yet while these are factors that people can control, oral cancer sometimes strikes those who do not smoke and have no other known risk factors. The importance of visiting your dentist is evident here, so he or she can properly detect cancerous growth.

Preventing Oral Cancer with Dr. Williamson

Probably the two most important things you can do to prevent oral cancer are to not smoke or drink excessively, and visit your dentist regularly.  (Studies also suggest that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may prevent the development of cancerous cells.) Normal check-ups with your dentist that include an examination of the entire mouth are essential in spotting cancerous or pre-cancerous cells. At Raleigh Comprehensive and Cosmetic Dentistry, Dr. Williamson can perform a painless yet extensive cancer screening procedure that includes an evaluation of the lymph nodes, glands, and muscles in the head and neck area, and a comprehensive exploration of the mouth. If you suspect you may be at risk for oral cancer, let us know and we will do everything we can to ensure that your oral health is our top priority.