Oral cancer can occur in the mouth or throat, such as on the cheeks, gums, tongue, lips, roof of the mouth, or base of the mouth. A person can be diagnosed with this cancer at any age, but the risk tends to increase as you get older. And the risk is also higher if you drink heavily or if you’re a smoker.
Once it starts to grow, it can spread, so it’s wise to check your mouth at home for oral cancer signs, as well as have your whole mouth examined by a dentist. This strategy can help boost the odds that you’ll recognize the earliest signs of this disease so you can receive treatment sooner.
Continue reading to learn more about the early signs of oral cancer, and how your dentist can help.
What does oral cancer look and feel like?
It’s a good idea to become familiar with some of the main symptoms that are associated with oral cancer so you can keep an eye out for them.
This type of cancer can provide some warning signs, so if you notice something is wrong, visiting a doctor or dentist right away can help you get a proper diagnosis, as well as start treatment immediately, if necessary.
Here are some of the things to look out for as you check the inside of your mouth in the mirror at home:
- A red or white patch or spot that is painless and flat
- Thickening of the skin
- A lump or swelling
- Rough or crusted spots
- Bleeding in the mouth or throat
- A sore that isn’t healing and bleeds easily
- Tenderness, pain, or numbness that develops in the lips or mouth
Other symptoms that might occur include:
- Sore jaw
- Sore throat
- Loose teeth
- A change in your bite
- Trouble chewing, speaking, swallowing, or moving the jaw or tongue
Note: Some experts recommend waiting about two weeks to see if the symptoms resolve on their own. But if you feel like you need to see a dentist or doctor sooner, definitely do so.
Is oral cancer curable?
It is possible to treat oral cancer, and be cured, especially if you catch it in time. The goal is to become aware of the problem in its earliest stages before it has had a chance to spread.
Oral cancer treatment options might include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Remember, the sooner you can receive treatment, the better!
How is oral cancer detected early?
To look for oral cancer signs, try to check the inside of your mouth regularly, and don’t forget to examine your lips as well. By doing so, you can become familiar with what your mouth looks like, and that knowledge will help you keep track of what’s normal and what’s abnormal for you.
In addition to checking your mouth at home, seeing your dentist on a regular basis, such as twice a year, is a smart move because dental professionals know how to carefully examine your mouth for indications that something is wrong. They are trained to look for early oral cancer on gums, the tongue, and other areas of the mouth.
At your routine dental check-up, it’s also best to discuss any symptoms that you’ve experienced, or anything that you noticed in your mouth that doesn’t appear normal to you. Be upfront, as there’s no need to feel embarrassed!
In the event that your dentist finds something that may be cancerous, he or she might take a sample of cells from your mouth, or you might be referred to a specialist for further evaluation and a biopsy.
Can dental Insurance help?
Because your dentist can perform an oral cancer screening at a check-up, yes, dental insurance can certainly come in handy! Preventive care that includes check-ups and screenings is usually covered at 100%, so you can save a lot of money, and you won’t need to sacrifice seeing the dentist often.
Being able to afford dental care is so important because simply seeing the dentist can make a big difference when it comes to catching problems as early on as possible. Plus, your dental insurance, along with your medical insurance, might step in to support you financially if you’re ever diagnosed with oral cancer and need to undergo treatment. This can be especially helpful for seniors on a fixed budget.
Bottom line: going to the dentist is about more than just keeping your teeth and gums in tip-top shape; it can also help catch oral cancer before it’s too late! So, if you don’t already have insurance that can help make appointments more affordable, consider browsing the many plans on the Direct Benefits Marketplace to get started.