According to the National Institute of Dental Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), over half of those in the U.S. survive from oral cancer after five years. If this condition is caught early enough, the chances of successful treatment are high.
Dentists look for early signs of mouth cancer during regular checkup appointments, but it's also important for you to recognize these warning signals so you can bring them to the attention of your dentist right away.
Signs and Symptoms
Mouth cancer can occur anywhere in the mouth, including the lips, tongue and throat, as well as the salivary glands, pharynx, larynx and sinuses. And because early detection is crucial in overcoming this disease, you'll want to visit your doctor immediately if any of the following symptoms persist for more than two weeks:
Although the exact cause of oral cancer is unclear, there are certain lifestyle factors that can put someone at risk for this disease. Tobacco of any kind – cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco – increase your risk for oral cancer. In fact, the Mouth Cancer Foundation reports 90 percent of those with oral cancer consume tobacco. Heavy use of alcohol also increases a person's chances of developing oral cancer, and the NIDCR says your risk is even higher when using both tobacco and alcohol.
In addition to tobacco and alcohol, age and eating habits can influence your risk as well. Most oral cancers occur in people over the age of 40, and a diet that is deficient in fruits and vegetables can make it easier to contract. Keep in mind sun exposure can cause cancer on the lips. More recently, there has been a rise in a subset of oral cancers associated with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HIV 16).
Oral Cancer Screening and Treatment
Oral cancer examinations by your dentist are quick, painless and crucial to detecting it in its early stages. The American Dental Association (ADA) explains that during a routine checkup of your teeth and gums, your dentist also visually checks your lips and face for signs of spreading beyond your mouth. He or she may also palpate the neck and jaw area, and examine both the top and underside of your tongue. These oral cancer screenings should be done every six months.
A dentist who suspects cancer will recommend a biopsy of the area, according to theAcademy of General Dentistry (AGD). With a positive diagnosis, surgery may be needed to treat the affected area, and often this surgery is followed by radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
Your Best Option
When in doubt, seek prevention! You should already practice daily oral hygiene to prevent tooth decay and gum disease: brushing regularly with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily and limiting sweets. But by regulating certain lifestyle choices – smoking, alcohol use and sun exposure, for example – you can significantly lower your risk of developing oral cancer.
Ultimately, if you know what to look for and see your dentist for regular screenings, early signs of mouth cancer can be identified and taken care of before they become a serious problem.
Having a tooth pulled is not a particularly enjoyable experience. And you no doubt expect to have some discomfort afterward. But that's OK, you say. You can endure it when you need to. But if the pain becomes intense and doesn't go away after a few days, it may be a symptom of a condition called dry socket, or alveolar osteitis.
Only a very small percentage -- about 2% to 5% of people -- developdry socket after a tooth extraction. In those who have it, though, dry socket can be uncomfortable. Fortunately, it's easily treatable.
The socket is the hole in the bone where the tooth has been removed. After a tooth is pulled, a blood clot forms in the socket to protect the bone and nerves underneath. Sometimes that clot can become dislodged or dissolve a couple of days after the extraction. That leaves the bone and nerve exposed to air, food, fluid, and anything else that enters the mouth. This can lead to infection and severe pain that can last for 5 or 6 days.
Who Is Likely to Get Dry Socket?Some people may be more likely to get dry socket after having atooth pulled. That includes people who:
What Are the Symptoms of Dry Socket?If you look into the site where the tooth was pulled, you'll probably see a dry-looking opening. Instead of a dark blood clot, there will just be whitish bone. The pain typically starts about 2 days after the tooth was pulled. Over time it becomes more severe and can radiate to your ear.
Other symptoms of dry socket include bad breath and an unpleasant smell and taste in your mouth.
How Is Dry Socket Treated?You can take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such asaspirin or ibuprofen, to ease the discomfort. Sometimes these over-the-counter medications aren't enough to relieve the pain. When that's the case, your doctor may prescribe a stronger drug or will anesthetize the area.
Dr. James L. Johnson