We pay lots of attention to the appearance of our pearly whites…but what about our oral health?

It’s a big deal. Mouth cancers are newly diagnosed in about 145 Americans every day, with someone dying from oral cancer every hour, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Doctors find most as late-stage cancers, with a death rate of about 43 percent at five years from diagnosis.

So what is considered “oral cancer”? Oral cancers appear anywhere within the oral cavity, including the tongue, under the tongue, lips, roof of the mouth, and lining of the cheek. Other head and neck cancers are often grouped into this category. Tobacco and alcohol use, along with exposure to the HPV-16 virus, are the most common culprits.

Here’s the good news: with early detection, oral cancers can have an 80-90 percent survival rate. And next to you, your dentist is often the first line of defense against these deadly diseases—another reason to stay on top of your bi-annual dental checkups!

You may not realize you have oral cancer until it’s too late, so pay close attention to any changes inside your mouth. Here are some warning signs to watch for:

Lumps & Bumps
One symptom you should never take lightly? A lump or growth anywhere in your mouth or neck. Cancerous lumps may or may not feel painful, and they won’t disappear on their own. Once you feel and see something like this, get to a doctor, ASAP.

Lingering Sores
It’s not uncommon to get canker sores—and some people are just more prone to these pesky lesions. But ulcers or other sores that won’t heal are the most common signs of oral cancer. If your ulcer hasn’t disappeared within two weeks, get it checked out.

Persistent Pain
This one seems like a no brainer, right? But it’s also easy to write off mouth pain to something other than cancer, like a cavity, abrasion, or sore, not healing. But a deep cancerous growth pressing on a nerve can also cause significant pain.

Trouble Swallowing
Cancerous growths can also prevent you from swallowing normally. If you’re struggling to swallow or feel like something is stuck in your throat, get it checked out.

Loss of Feeling
Cancerous growths can press against nerves in your mouth, causing numbness. If you’re experiencing persistent tingling or numbness in your mouth, don’t delay getting seen by a doctor.

Red or White Patches
If you notice red or white patches on the lining of your mouth, tongue, gums, or tonsils, you might have simply irritated something or have a minor infection. But any patches that haven’t disappeared in a week, or that are growing in size, could be a sign of something more serious.

Stinky Breath
Here’s one that has many causes—from a rotting tooth, to medication use, to halitosis. But if your bad breath persists even after brushing your teeth and swishing with mouthwash, this can indicate something else going on in the mouth or deeper in the oral cavity.

Jiggly Teeth
Creepy, huh? But cellular changes or a cancerous growth in your jaw can cause teeth to loosen. So unless you’ve had recent dental work and there’s a rational explanation for your teeth loosening, don’t ignore this one.

Pain in the Ear
When a mass caused by oral cancer spreads and puts pressure on the ear and surrounding nerves, ear pain will result. While there are plenty of causes of ear pain, get this checked out if it persists for more than a few days.

Fortunately for our patients at CNS Dental, an oral health screening is part of your dental care checkup. We’ll check your neck and mouth for lumps, examine the inside of your mouth, gums, roof of your mouth, and tongue for any abnormalities, and of course ask if you’ve had any changes to your dental health.

If you have any concerns about your oral health or risk for oral cancer, don’t hesitate to reach out—before or during your next visit!