One of the most troubling statistics about oral cancer is that it often goes unnoticed in its early stages. This makes the cancer particularly dangerous because it’s likely to spread to other areas, like the lymph nodes, before it’s been detected.

Oral cancer is most common in people over the age of 40 who use tobacco. But heavy consumption of alcohol is also a contributor. In fact, studies show that people who smoke and drink are 15 times more likely to develop it. Other risk factors include excessive sun exposure as well as the human papillomavirus (HPV).  These causes aside, there are still a large number of people diagnosed every day that DO NOT use tobacco and have obtained the cancer through means not identified above. And these numbers among those aged 30 and under continue to rise. Researchers are still trying to find out why.

Regular visits to the dentist help to catch signs that may otherwise slip by undetected. Through routine exams, your dentist scans your gums, tongue, lips and face to check for any abnormalities.  Some of the signs to watch out for at home are:

  • Sores, swellings, lumps or thick patches anywhere in or around your mouth or throat

  • Areas of red or white lesions in your mouth or lips

  • The feeling of a lump or object stuck in your throat

  • Swellings that make wearing dentures uncomfortable

  • Numbness, pain or tenderness anywhere in your mouth, including your tongue

  • Pain in one of your ears but without any loss of hearing

  • Trouble moving your jaw or tongue, or problems with chewing, swallowing or speaking

  • Loose teeth with no apparent dental cause

  • Lingering sore throat or hoarseness 

April is Oral Cancer Awareness month.  All information provided by The Oral Cancer Foundation and Colgate.