One of the most important reasons to check up on oral hygiene is to detect the presence of oral cancer. This disease can be life-threatening. Therefore, it is incredibly important to know how to recognise it in its early stages.

Catching oral cancer early means beginning treatment at the most opportune moment.

While there is no substitute for a professional dental check-up, it is good to be able to recognise the signs and symptoms. That way, if you are between your bi-annual routine appointments, you can seek treatment.

What Is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer affects many organs and body parts surrounding the mouth. These include the lips, cheeks, tongue, hard and soft palates, sinuses, the floor of the mouth, and pharynx.

It can be painful and even life-threatening if it is not caught early. There are ways to recognise the disease early so that the treatment process is more likely to be successful. There are also ways to reduce the risk of getting oral cancer by changing a few behaviours.


Oral cancer has the appearance of a growth in the mouth. While there are many reasons that sores may develop in the mouth, if it persists, it could be oral cancer.

There are a few major symptoms that distinguish a normal sore from a cancerous one. These symptoms include:

  • Sores in the mouth that last longer than two weeks
  • Sore throat or hoarseness of voice
  • Pain in the ear/s
  • A shift in how the teeth or dentures fit together
  • White, red, or speckled patches
  • Swelling, bumps, or roughness in the mouth or on the lips
  • Oral bleeding
  • Numbness, pain or tenderness in the neck, face, or mouth
  • Weight loss

If any of these factors or a combination of the above are present, be sure to consult with a physician. These symptoms can often be due to other factors, but if they are persistent, then they may be a sign of a deeper underlying issue.

Potential Cause

Oral cancer can arise for a number of controllable and uncontrollable factors. Some factors, like family history and genetics, are out of one’s control. However, other risk factors are simply behaviours that can be changed to protect one’s health.

One major controllable risk factor is smoking. Even smokeless tobacco like snuff or dip can put you at risk. Chewing tobacco increases the likelihood that you will develop cancer in the cheek, gums, or lips. Other controllable risk factors include alcohol consumption and sun exposure.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a risk factor as well. The presence of other diseases can often heighten the chances of developing oral cancer. 


Once you see the warning signs, it is important to visit a physician who can diagnose it. A doctor will set up a treatment plan for you. There are several components to treatment, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Typically, surgery is completed to remove the growth. After this surgery, there are further steps depending on the severity of the disease as well as how early it was caught. Radiation therapy often comes next, in addition to or instead of chemotherapy.


While you can’t control your family history, there are factors within your control that can help to prevent oral cancer. In order to ensure successful prevention, be sure to reduce or halt risk factors like smoking, binge drinking, and chewing tobacco. Eating a healthy balanced diet and limiting sun exposure also helps to reduce risks.

Catching oral cancer early ensures a speedy recovery. Be sure to conduct self-exams often and visit the dentist every six months. These preventative measures will help to keep you safe and protected from various dental diseases in the long term.