What Are Signs of Oral Cancer?

When you see your dentist for a check up, they will also look for signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer is a type of cancer that affects the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat and it is the most common type of cancer in the head and neck region. Statistics indicate that over 51,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer and cancers of the throat, tonsils, and back of the tongue every year.

Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of oral cancer can vary depending on the location of the cancer. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • A lump or sore in the mouth that does not heal
  • A change in the color of the gums or tongue
  • A persistent sore throat
  • Bleeding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in the mouth or throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Ear pain
  • Unexplained weight loss

Here are some other signs and symptoms of oral cancer that are less common:

  • Numbness or tingling in the mouth
  • Thickening of the lining of the mouth
  • Red or white patches in the mouth
  • Drainage from the mouth
  • Bad breath that does not go away

The most common oral cancer symptom is a flat, painless white or red spot, or a small sore in the mouth. In many cases, having a spot or sore in your mouth is harmless but it’s important to tell your dentist if you notice any so they can check and determine if it is, in fact, harmless or something that warrants further attention.

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, see your dentist right away. Early detection and treatment of oral cancer can improve the chances of a successful outcome.

Risk Factors

Here are some of the risk factors for oral cancer:

  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol use
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Family history of oral cancer
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as arsenic and chromium
  • Certain genetic syndromes

If you have any of these risk factors, it is important to see your dentist for regular checkups so your oral health can be monitored for any changes.

Reduce Your Risk

Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer:

  • Quit smoking and chewing tobacco
    Smoking is the leading cause of oral cancer. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer. Chewing tobacco is also a major risk factor for oral cancer. If you chew tobacco, quitting is also important.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol use
    Alcohol use is not as big of a risk factor for oral cancer as smoking, but it can still increase your risk. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
  • Get vaccinated against HPV
    The HPV vaccine can help protect you from developing oral cancer. The HPV vaccine is recommended for all boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12.
  • Practice good oral hygiene
    Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time and floss once a day. This will help remove plaque and bacteria from your teeth and gums.
  • See your dentist for regular checkups
    Your dentist can look for any signs of oral cancer during your regular checkups.

If you have any of the aforementioned risk factors, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of oral cancer and to see your dentist for regular checkups. Early detection of changes in your oral health are important for a good outcome.


Dr. Patel is here to help with all your dental needs and can address any concerns you may have with your teeth and oral health. Make an appointment today at our Carrollwood or Wesley Chapel location.

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