There are approximately 30,000 new cases of oral cancer reported each year in the United States, and every year 8,000 people die from cancer of the mouth. Men are twice as likely as woman to develop this disease. The death rate from oral cancer is especially high, because it is often discovered late in its development.

Oral cancer can affect any area of the mouth, including the gums, tongue, cheeks, roof of the mouth, lips, and hard or soft palate. The tongue is the most common area to develop intra-oral cancer with the floor of the mouth close behind. Individuals can look for the following signs & symptoms: (1) White patches, mixed red & white patches and/or bright red smooth patches. (2) Sores on the face, neck, lips or mouth that haven’t healed in two weeks (3) Difficulty swallowing (4) Swellings or lumps in your neck, lips or mouth (5) Bleeding in your mouth (6) Numbness, pain and/or loss of feeling in your face, neck or mouth. (7) Hoarseness that lasts for a long time.

While self-examination is recommended, these signs & symptoms can be caused by many other conditions that are not cancer. But it is prudent to be cautious. There is no substitute for having semi-annual examinations at your dental office. If the dentist has concerns a biopsy can be performed to confirm any diagnosis. Early detection if the key to higher survival rates.

Risk factors:

  • Tobacco–

    Almost 90% of individuals that develop oral cancer use tobacco in the form of cigarettes, cigars and pipes or as “snuff” [chewing tobacco]. The risk increases with the amount of tobacco taken and the longevity of the habit.

  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption–

    About 75-80% of all oral cancer patients drink a lot of alcoholic beverages. The combination of smoking and excessive alcohol is a combination that significantly increases a person’s chance of developing oral cancer.

  • Exposure to Sunlight–

    Constant exposure to the ultraviolet light from the sun greatly increases the odds of developing cancer of the lip.

  • Age–

    The majority of people who are diagnosed with oral cancer are over 40 years old. The likelihood of developing oral cancer increases with age. Half of all patients with oral cancer are over 65.

  • Irritation –

    Chronic, long-term irritation of the soft tissue in the mouth causes sores and ulcers that may be precancerous. Poorly fitting dentures have been implicated as a risk factor for developing oral cancer. However, there have been research studies that have shown no difference between denture wearers and non-denture wearers in the incidence of oral cancer. There is some speculation that ill-fitting dentures tend to trap proven causative agents such as tobacco particles and alcohol residue against the gum tissue, thus increasing the chance of oral cancer developing.

Your dentures can be stabilized so that rubbing against the gum tissue causing irritation can be minimized.

Learn more about implant-retained dentures.

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