Being proactive in caring for your oral health is essential to maintaining a confident smile and an overall healthy mouth. Yet, underlying issues can wreak havoc if not attended to in a timely manner. Oral cancer rates steadily climb each year, with many patients having no clue of its existence until extensive treatment is required.
For this reason, knowing what the potential signs and symptoms of developing oral cancer are will be beneficial. In addition, there are ways to detect oral cancer at home by conducting a self-examination as part of your normal oral hygiene routine.
Are There Any Common Symptoms or Signs of Oral Cancer?
Oral cancer involves the mouth and the throat areas. It can show up anywhere in the oral cavity, which consists of the lips, tongue, and inner cheeks. It can also occur in the oropharynx areas of the throat.
Oral cancer is one of the more difficult to identify through common signs and symptoms. During the earliest stages of cancer, you may not even notice any symptoms at all and be completely unaware of its existence.
Yet, you can still be on the lookout for the following potential symptoms and signs:
- slow healing mouth sores
- continual bleeding or pain in the mouth with an unknown source
- teeth that feel loose
- numbness in the lower lip or chin
- lingering sore throat or problems swallowing
- slight lumps in the lymph nodes of the neck
- ongoing earaches
Whether or not you experience any of these symptoms, it will still be beneficial to remain proactive and conduct a self-examination of your mouth and neck often. We tell you how below.
5 Ways to Detect Oral Cancer
Making regular inspections beyond everyday dental care habits can provide peace of mind that your mouth is healthy and also alert you when it may not be. Below we share five of the ways you can detect oral cancer while in your own home.
1. Lip and Gum Check
Start your self-exam with a lip and gum check. Begin by looking closely at the surface of your outer lips in a mirror before pulling first the bottom and then the top lip out and inspecting the inner areas. Also inspect the gums underneath.
Notice if there are any white or red patches or abrupt color changes. Run your fingers along your inner and outer lips to find if any small lumps or bumps are lingering there.
If you do find color changes, it does not automatically indicate oral cancer. Such changes in color may occur due to certain medications or other causes. There can also be other reasons for any small bumps you find.
2. Tongue Check
Gather a few gauze squares and a small mirror. Extend your tongue straight out and visually inspect the top surface. Take the gauze, grasp the tongue, and move it side to side, each time looking for any bumps, obvious color changes, or swelling.
Finally, tip your tongue upward until it touches the top of your mouth, and examine the underside. These areas are common for cancer to develop, especially in non-smokers.
3. Inner Cheek Check
The interior of your cheeks can also hold clues that you may have oral cancer. Wash your hands, then use one finger to run along the interior cheek areas slowly. Notice any small lumps or bumps.
With your index finger resting against the inner cheek area, position the thumb outside on your face. Slightly roll your cheek around and check for tenderness or lumps.
Next, pull a side of your mouth sideways so you can see the inner cheeks. As you shine a small flashlight, look for red or white splotches that look different and out of place.
4. Top and Bottom Mouth Check
One of the hiding places for oral cancer is on the upper soft palate or roof of your mouth. To examine this area, look in the mirror as you tilt your head backward and open wide. See if you can spot any discoloration, dark areas, or lumps. Once again, use your flashlight if it will help. Run your index finger along this area also to check for bumps or lumps.
Next, move to the floor of your mouth, underneath your tongue. With your head slightly tilted, use your light to check for splotches of red or white as well as bumps or lumps. Probe the area with two fingers also.
5. Neck and Throat Check
Oral cancer can also descend down into the throat area. Start by lifting your chin and checking for enlarged lymph nodes along your neck.
Next, open your mouth, and while looking in the mirror, notice if there is any redness, lumps, or an enlargement in the back of the throat and tonsil area.
Oral cancer can affect you at any age, so staying aware of signs and symptoms and conducting self-examinations can help bring about a faster diagnosis and treatment. Your dentist can also help by conducting professional oral cancer screenings every time you visit.
Professional Oral Cancer Screenings
During your regularly scheduled dental exams, you will most likely undergo an oral cancer screening. For this, your dentist will spend time examining your overall mouth and throat areas in search of anything that seems even slightly abnormal.
Just like in your self-examination at home, focus will be on the lips, gums, tongue, inner cheeks, palate, and tonsils. The screening begins with a visual inspection of these areas. Your dentist will also gently press on the sides of your neck (lymph nodes), along your jaw bone, under the chin area, and the outer cheeks.
Your oral cancer screening can also go one step further with new techniques today. For instance, here at Stiles Dental Care, we provide our patients with a more thorough screening with the use of the VELscope Vx. This diagnostic tool is helpful in detecting any abnormalities that could prove to be cancerous.
Contact Stiles Dental Care Today to Learn More About Detecting Oral Cancer
The team at Stiles Dental Care goes beyond helping you maintain healthy teeth and gums and extend our services to include oral cancer screenings during every exam. To learn more about ways to detect oral cancer and what may follow, contact our office today to schedule an appointment.