Ask a Dentist

April 1, 2022

Q: What Does Oral Cancer Look Like?

Doctor holding a white and red ribbon that represents oral cancer

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Oral cancer can develop on the lip, inside the mouth, on the back of the throat, the inner lining of the cheeks or on the tongue. The disease can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early. 

The most common sign of oral cancer is discolouration and bleeding sores on the throat, gums, tongue and other areas in the mouth. Other symptoms to look for include: 

  • A lump in the cheek 
  • Numbness in any part of your mouth
  • White or red patches on the gums, tongue or inside of the mouth
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing 
  • Soreness or unexplained pain in your mouth, or it feels like something is caught in your throat with no known cause
  • Change in voice

Early Detection Is Key

When you come in for a checkup and cleaning, we take a look for oral cancer too. Our dental professionals at Dental Image Therapy Centres look for any abnormalities in your mouth during your regular checkup. 

Another way we check for oral cancer is by using a VELscope. The VELscope system shines a fluorescence light to detect cancerous and precancerous lesions. Patients can request a VELscope scan for their hygiene appointments at an extra cost.

For Oral Cancer Awareness Month, we’re running a special! Request a VELscope scan at no additional cost during your complete dental exam appointment. 

Self-Screening Tips

In addition to regular checkups, you can also perform a self-screening on yourself for any signs of oral cancer. Follow these steps to identify the symptoms: 

  1. Wash your hands before touching your mouth and have a flashlight handy.
  2. Remove any dentures or appliances in your mouth so you can see every tissue in the mouth
  3. Pull out your lips and examine the inner surface of your lips. 
  4. Look at the inside of both your cheeks with your flashlight and feel those areas with your fingers as you look for lumps, bumps and discolouration.
  5. Look beneath your tongue with your flashlight and feel the area with your fingers, you’re looking for lumps, bumps and discolouration.
  6. Stick your tongue out and examine the top, both sides and the lower surface of your tongue, looking for discolouration. Feel those areas with your fingers to check for lumps and bumps.
  7. Look at your soft palate and the back of your throat with your flashlight. Don’t stick your tongue out when you do this because it will get in the way of you seeing the back of your throat. 

Does HPV Cause Oral Cancer?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV can infect the throat and mouth, causing oral cancer. It takes a few years after being infected with HPV for cancer to develop. However, it’s unclear whether HPV alone is enough to cause oral cancer or if other factors (such as smoking or heavy alcohol use) combined with HPV causes cancer. 

The HPV vaccine was created to prevent most cervical cancers and oral cancer in women and men. Because the vaccine protects against the types of HPV that can cause oral cancers, it may also prevent cancer altogether.

The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for girls and boys between ages 11 and 12. It can even be given as early as age nine. The CDC also recommends that the HPV vaccine be given to everyone through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already.

To detect oral cancer in the early stages, seeing your dentist and dental hygienist for regular checkups and cleanings is essential. Seek prompt medical attention if you notice any signs of oral cancer in your mouth. 

Book your checkup and cleaning today and get ahead of oral cancer. We’re located in Garden City Shopping Centre and St. Vital Centre. Come visit us to get your free VELscope scan during your appointment (only applicable in April).

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Maybe it's time for your and your family's regular checkup and cleaning, you have a toothache or you need to get your treatment plan going - whatever the reason, we're here to help you get your confident smile. Whether you're a new patient or a returning friend, we can't wait to see you at your next appointment at either of our Winnipeg clinics!

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