Oral Cancer...

I have a white patch in my mouth that won't seem to go away. Is it serious? Mouth sores may be symptoms of a disease or disorder. Canker sores and cold sores are annoying and often painful but they usually go away over time. Leukoplakia (pronounced loo-koh-PLAY-kee-ah)-a thick, whitish patch that forms on the inside of the cheeks, gums or tongue is more serious because it can develop into cancer. Leukoplakias are caused by excess cell growth and are common among tobacco users. They may also be caused by an irritation such as an ill-fitting denture or chewing on the inside of the cheek. See your dentist if you have a mouth sore that lasts a week or longer. For more information and examples of mouth sores, see A-Z Topics: Mouth Sores.

How can I help prevent oral cancer?

Eliminate risk factors. Tobacco use combined with heavy alcohol use (30 drinks or more a week) is the primary risk factor for oral cancer. Schedule regular dental checkups to allow for early detection and treatment if cancer develops. Take a good look at your mouth after brushing or flossing. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, see your dentist:

  • a persistent sore or irritation that bleeds easily and does not heal; red and/or white lesions; pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or lips;
  • a lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area; difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue; or
  • a change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth completely.

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