April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, which is a good time to talk about the signs of oral cancer and ways to prevent it.

Oral (or mouth) cancer refers to cancer that develops in any part of the mouth – lips, gums, tongue, inner lining of cheeks, roof of mouth, or under tongue.  You are more at risk of developing oral cancer if you smoke, use smokeless tobacco products, drink high quantities of alcohol regularly, have a family history of cancer, have excessive exposure to the sun, or have been diagnosed with Human papillomavirus (HPV).

According to the American Cancer Society, two of the most common symptoms of oral cancer is a sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal and pain in the mouth that doesn’t go away.  Here are some other signs of oral cancer to watch for:

  • Growths, lumps, or eroded areas inside your mouth
  • White or red patches inside your mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding in your mouth
  • Pain or difficulty with swallowing
  • A lip or mouth sore that doesn’t heal
  • Persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and don’t heal within 2 weeks
  • Unexplained numbness, pain, or tenderness in any area of your face, neck, or mouth
  • Difficulty chewing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue
  • Loose teeth
  • Change in your voice

Some ways to prevent oral cancer:

  • Don’t smoke or use any tobacco products
  • Only drink alcohol in moderation
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Limit your exposure to the sun; when applying sunscreen, don’t forget to apply to your lips

It is also important to visit your dentist regularly so that your dentist can check for any signs of oral cancer.  You can also perform a self-examination between your dental visits by using a bright light and a mirror to examine your entire mouth.  If you have any persistent signs or symptoms that bother you or last more than two weeks, make an appointment with your dentist or health care professional so that it can be examined further.