FAQ’s On Early Oral Cancer Signs & Causes

X-ray image with dental tools in front.

Oral Cancer Signs

In this article, our dentists at Country Dental will discuss early oral cancer signs plus other aspects of oral cancer including causes, treatments, screenings, and prevention.

Our Ontario dental specialists offer complete oral cancer screenings at no extra charge (with a complete dental exam) and can address any questions you may have about early oral cancer signs. If you are due for a dental exam:

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According to the Canadian Cancer Society, it was estimated that in 2017 oral cavity cancer:

  • Was diagnosed in 4,700 Canadians
  • Will be the cause of death for 1,250 Canadians

If you are concerned about your oral health or would like to book your free Oral Cancer Screening appointment, please contact Country Dental here.

What is Oral Cavity Cancer?

Lip and oral cavity cancer refer to cancer in any part of the oral cavity (mouth) including:

  • Lips
  • Cheeks
  • Palate (roof of the mouth)
  • The floor of the mouth
  • Tongue
  • Gums

What Are Some of the Early Oral Cancer Signs?

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, there are a number of early oral cancer signs and symptoms to be aware of including:

  • White, red, or mixed white and red patches on mouth or lips
  • Lumps on the tongue or lips (or in the mouth)
  • Mouth sores (or ulcers) that won’t heal
  • A loss of sensation or numbness in the lips or tongue
  • Slurring during normal speech
  • Pain in the mouth that does not seem to go away
  • Earaches that persist and won’t go away
  • Thickening of the cheek flesh
  • Unusually loose teeth or dentures that don’t seem to fit anymore
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes or salivary glands
  • Possible swelling of neck or jaw

As oral cancer grows and spreads throughout the body and into your organs there may be other oral cancer signs and symptoms. These may include an inability to fully open the mouth, difficulty or pain when chewing or swallowing (or when moving the jaw or tongue), plus a loss of appetite and/or weight loss.

In very advanced cases of oral cancer, the jaw can be weakened and may even break. A condition called “orocutaneous fistula” can also occur, which is where an opening forms from the inside of your mouth to the outer skin as oral cancer wears through the layer of fat between the mouth and the cheek.

What Causes Oral Cancer?

The most influential risk factors and known causes of oral cavity cancer are heavy smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and chewing tobacco usage. Note that using alcohol and tobacco together increases the risk of developing oral cancer more so than using just one of the products alone.

Additional oral cancer signs, known risk factors, and causes may include:

  • HPV (human papillomavirus)
  • Pre-cancerous conditions
  • Family history of squamous cell carcinoma
  • Previous cancer
  • Sun exposure
  • Diets low in vegetables and fruit
  • Weakened immune system

Possible risk factors include poor oral health and dental care, poor-fitting dentures, and second-hand smoke.

What Are the Common Oral Cancer Treatments?

If our Ontario dentists detect signs of oral cancer you will be referred to an Oncologist (a person who specializes in cancer). Your oncologist will help develop a treatment plan for your oral cancer depending on your unique needs. They will consider what stage the cancer is in, where the cancer is located in your mouth, the outcomes of various treatment options, as well as your overall health and ability to undergo treatments.

Oral cancer treatment options can include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

When Should I Have An Oral Cancer Screening?

Knowing the oral cancer signs to watch out for is just a start. Early screening and detection of oral cancer increase the likelihood of successful treatment. At Country Dental we offer oral cancer screenings at no additional cost with a complete dental exam.

If you have noticed any of the above listed oral cancer signs or if you smoke, use tobacco, drink alcohol, or have a pre-cancerous condition, talk to your dentist about having regular oral cancer screenings.

There are several pre-cancerous conditions of the oral cavity that you and your dentist can monitor for, including:

  • Leukoplakia – abnormal white area or spots on the mucous membrane lining of the mouth.
  • Erythroplakia – abnormal red area or spots on the mucous membrane lining of the mouth.
  • Erythroleukoplakia – abnormal white and red area or spots on the mucous membrane lining of the mouth.

What Is the Best Method of Oral Cancer Prevention?

While it may seem obvious, here is the best approach you can take to help prevent oral cancer:

  • Stop using tobacco products
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Visit your dentist for a regular check-up at least once a year, which includes an Oral Cancer Screening

If you still have questions or would like more information about oral cancer signs or oral cancer screenings, or if you wish to talk to one of our local Ontario dentists about your risk of developing oral cancer, please contact our dental office nearest you:

Toronto:                416-335-7377

Cambridge:           519-620-7474

Fergus:                   519-787-7878

For updates, please follow us @CountryDental on twitter and/or like us on Facebook.

Visit the Canadian Cancer Society website for more information on Oral Cancer.

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