All About Oral Cancer

All About Oral Cancer

Aug 28, 2013

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 42,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer in the United States in 2013. The key to preventing deaths from oral cancer is catching it early. Dentist now routinely include oral cancer screening in their exams.

The following areas are included in the oral cavity:

  • Lips
  • Cheeks
  • Gums
  • Salivary glands
  • Front of tongue
  • Underneath the tongue
  • Roof of the mouth
  • Back of tongue
  • Throat/Tonsils
  • Teeth

If you notice a sore or irritation that doesn’t go away on its own after two weeks or any of the following other possible symptoms of oral cancer, it is important to notify your dentist immediately:

1) mouth or lip discomfort or numbness

2) red /white patches

3) difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking

4) problems moving tongue or jaw

5) a change in your bite

Contributing Factors

People who smoke or drink alcohol excessively, and are older than 50, are most at risk for oral cancer. Researchers have identified a link between the human papilloma virus (HPV), and oral cancers at the bases of the tongue or close to the tonsils. These areas are difficult to see and can be hard to identify. Cancers in HPV positive adults tend to have a lower rate of death than cancers in HPV negative adults.


The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research suggest ways you can keep your mouth moist during treatment of oral cancer, including:

  • Drinking water
  • Sucking on ice chips
  • Chewing sugarless gum
  • Sucking on sugar-free hard candy
  • Using a saliva substitute

It is also important to keep your mouth clean by brushing your teeth, gums, and tongue after each meal with a fluoride toothpaste or gel prescribed by your dentist. You should also floss carefully unless the area bleeds or is very sore. Rinsing with baking soda and salt mixed in warm water can also be soothing.

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