Each time your dentist examines your teeth, she also checks your mouth for signs of oral cancer. As part of your routine homecare, you should do the same.

  • Pay particular attention to sores in the mouth that don’t heal quickly (within two weeks) or that bleed easily.
  • Check the floor of your mouth, the front and sides of your tongue and the roof of your mouth for white or red patches that don’t go away.
  • Watch for soreness, thickening or lumps anywhere in your mouth or throat, or on your tongue.
  • Watch for leukoplakia, a white or gray, hardened, slightly raised or thickened lesion inside the mouth. These lesions can become cancerous; if you find one, schedule an exam with your dentist.
  • Don’t think you’re off the hook if a mouth sore doesn’t hurt; most pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions are painless.

Unlike other forms of cancer, the overall survival rate for cancers of the mouth and throat (called “pharyngeal” cancers) has not improved over the past two decades. In fact, researchers have noticed a marked decrease in the oral cancer survival rates for minorities. Early detection of oral cancer can greatly increase your chances for beating the disease.

About 75 percent of oral cancers can be linked to elective behaviors—tobacco use, including cigars, cigarettes, pipes, and smokeless tobaccos, and excessive alcohol usage.

What to do?

Don’t use tobacco products; if you already use them, quit.
See your dentist at least once, but preferably twice, each year. Make sure she checks your mouth for signs of oral cancer.
Practice good dental homecare, including oral cancer self-exams.