April 13th through the 19th this year is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week, so there’s no better time than now to educate yourself about the signs to look for when it comes to oral cancer. Although it’s true that the word “cancer” in a diagnosis would terrify most people, it’s important to remember that oral cancer is often very treatable if it’s caught in the early stages.
What follows is a list of some of the most common symptoms associated with oral cancer. If you experience any of these symptoms and they don’t go away on their own within a short period of time, you should contact your dentist and schedule an oral exam:
- Mouth pain – including a toothache – that persists for several weeks.
- Sores inside the mouth that do not heal on their own.
- Difficulty swallowing or chewing food.
- A sore throat or feeling as though something is caught in the throat.
- Difficulty moving the tongue.
- Difficulty opening or closing the mouth.
- A white or red patch on the gum tissue on anywhere else on the soft tissue inside the mouth.
- Loose teeth.
- Numbness in the tongue or some other area of the mouth.
- Changes in the way dentures fit.
- Persistent pain in the jaw.
- Changes to the voice.
- A lump in the cheek or neck.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Persistent bad breath.
Remember that any of these symptoms may not be cancer at all, and may be an indication of some other non-cancer-related condition. A toothache that persists could be something as simple as tooth decay, for example, and a painful jaw could be the result of grinding your teeth at night, for instance. But if symptoms continue on for several weeks, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your dentist right away. Whether it’s cancer or some other problem, the sooner you have it treated, the easier it will be to resolve. And, if it is cancer, there are usually a variety of treatment options available.
There are also certain precautions you can take to lessen your chances of developing oral cancer. Using any type of tobacco product greatly increases the chances of developing this condition, as does over-indulgence in alcohol. Ask your dentist how you can be proactive in your own personal habits to lower your risks.
Spotting the early signs of oral cancer is yet another reason to see your dentist on a regular basis for oral exams. Your dentist can often spot cancer in its earliest stages – often before you feel any symptoms whatsoever.