Protecting Yourself Against Oral Cancer

Each year, over 54,000 individuals in the U.S. are diagnosed with oral cancer. Over 11,000 of those diagnosed will die because the cancer was not diagnosed or treated early enough. Oral cancer is on the rise in the United States, but there are steps you can take to minimize our risk and detect oral cancer in its earliest stages when it is easier to treat.

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer is any cancer affecting the mouth or back of the throat, including the cheeks, lips, tongue, and gums. Early diagnosis is the best indicator of whether an individual will recover with appropriate treatment. Unfortunately, most people do not recognize the earliest symptoms of oral cancer, which makes oral cancer screening by a dental professional a crucial part of your oral care routine.

Protect Yourself – Know the Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Most people do not recognize the early signs of oral cancer because they usually occur inside the mouth, where lesions are not easily seen. Since early oral cancer is not painful, you may ignore small signs. Never neglect any signs of oral cancer; it is better to be safe than sorry.

If you have any of the symptoms below, don’t hesitate to contact Tonka Smiles for an appointment for an oral cancer evaluation.

  • A lesion or sore in the mouth or on the lips that lasts longer than two weeks
  • A lump, bump, or thickened area that is new
  • Red or white patches of uneven skin on the gums, tongue, or the interior of the cheeks
  • Unexplained oral bleeding
  • Swelling of the jaw or cheeks
  • Difficulty opening or closing your mouth
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Numbness in the mouth
  • Chronic sore throat not related to an illness
  • Feeling like you need to clear your throat repeatedly
  • Earaches not caused by illness
  • Hoarseness
  • Unexplained weight loss

Regular Dental Exams Catch Oral Cancer Early

Dentists diagnose most cases of oral cancer during oral cancer screenings that are a part of routine dental exams. Because poor oral hygiene is a risk factor for oral cancer, seeing your dentist twice a year is the best way to protect yourself against oral cancer. Regular dental cleanings reduce the risk of developing mouth cancer and keep your gums and soft tissues healthy.

During an oral cancer screening, the dental care professionals at Tonka Smiles examine the interior of the mouth, tongue, and gums for any lesions that might be cancerous. We do a visual exam, feel for suspicious lumps, and ask questions regarding any changes in your oral health since your last visit. If we discover a questionable area, we scrape or remove a small cluster of cells and have them examined under a microscope. If necessary, tissue samples will be sent to an oncology lab for testing.

Nearly half of all oral cancers are not discovered by individuals until they are advanced, contributing to a high mortality rate. Sadly, 40% of those with late-stage oral cancer do not survive the five-year mark. If oral cancer is diagnosed and treated early, the survival rate more than doubles.

Are You at Risk for Oral Cancer?

Although everyone should see their dentist regularly for checkups and oral cancer screening, certain people are at greater risk and should prioritize dental checkups and cancer screenings. Those at greatest risk include individuals in the following groups: 

  • Smokers or users of smokeless tobacco
  • Anyone with HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) infection
  • Individuals who are obese
  • Fair-skinned individuals over the age of 60
  • Anyone who spends a great deal of time in the sun
  • Those with compromised immune systems
  • Anyone with malnutrition or poor nutrition
  • Individuals who do not take proper care of their teeth and gums


April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Tonka Smiles urges everyone to check their mouths, cheeks, and gums monthly for early signs of oral cancer. To ensure oral cancer is caught early, when treatment is most effective, contact our office at Tonka Smiles Phone Number 952-938-8533 to schedule a checkup and oral cancer screening. It could save your life!