As with any type of cancer, early detection is key. That is why it is important that you have regular screenings for signs of oral cancer. Oral cancer appears as a growth or sore that does not go away. Oral cancer which includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheek, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and throat can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.

An oral cancer exam is painless and quick it takes only a few minutes. In preparation for the exam, you will be asked to remove any dentures or partials that you may have. Your dentist will inspect your face, neck, lips and mouth. With both hands he or she will feel the area under your jaw and side of your neck checking for unusual lumps. Next, your dentist will have you stick your tongue out to check for swelling or abnormal color or texture. Using gauze, he or she will gently pull your tongue to one side and then the other. This is done to check the base of your tongue, the underside of your tongue will also be checked. In addition, your dentist will look at the roof of your mouth and the back of your throat. He or she will then feel the insides of your lips and cheeks to check for possible signs of cancer such as red or white patches.

Finally, your dentists will put one finger on the floor of your mouth and, with the other hand under your chin, gently press down to check for unusual lumps or sensitivity.

Additional testing may also be done for people who are at a higher risk for developing oral cancer. These patients include people over the age of 40, smokers, heavy drinkers, or people who have had oral contact with the human papilloma virus.

Oral cancer has very common warning signs that include:

A red, white or discolored patch or lump in or around the mouth
A sore that bleeds easily or that does not heal within two weeks
An area that has thickened, raised or become hardened (leukoplakia)
A rough patch of tissue
Difficuluty chewing or swallowing
A chronic sore throat or hoarsness
If abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps are apparent, the dentist will implement a diagnostic impression and treatment plan. In the event that the initial treatment plan is ineffective, a biopsy of the area will be performed. The biopsy includes a clinical evaluation, which will identify the precise stage and grade of the oral lesion.

It is important to note that around 75 percent of oral cancers are linked with modifiable behaviors such as smoking, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. Your dentist can provide literature and education on making lifestyle changes and smoking cessation. Another way to prevent oral cancer is by eating plenty of fruits and vegetable each day. With regular exams and a healthy lifestyle, you can better maintain your oral health, which is vital in your overall health.