Health and Well-Being

A Quick Guide to Oral Cancer Warning Signs and Risk Factors

May 2019 

According to Delta Dental of Iowa, approximately 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year and, sadly, the disease carries a high risk of death because early signs and symptoms are often missed.

Knowing these critical signs and symptoms - along with the risk factors that increase your chances for developing the disease - will help identify oral cancer early and improve your chances for successful treatment.

Visiting your dentist twice yearly is the best way to identify oral cancer early. Dental check-ups and regular teeth cleaning visits are available at no cost to you with your Delta Dental coverage.  

Are you at risk of developing oral cancer?
If you have the risk factors below, it means you have a higher risk of developing oral cancer than the general public. Keep in mind, however, anyone can develop oral cancer, even without these risk factors:

  • Tobacco and heavy alcohol use are the two biggest risk factors for developing oral cancer.
  • Men are twice as likely to develop the disease as women.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are increasingly linked to oral cancers.
  • Diets low in fruits and vegetables may make you more susceptible to oral cancer.
  • If you have a disease or take a medication that weakens your immune system, you may be at a higher risk of developing oral cancer.

Know the red flags: Oral cancer signs and symptoms
There are several indications of oral cancer you shouldn’t ignore. If you notice any of these common symptoms below, don’t hesitate to call your dentist:

  • Mouth pain or a sore in your mouth that doesn’t go away.
  • A lump in your cheek or neck.
  • Throat problems: Difficulty swallowing, sore throat or persistent throat discomfort.
  • Jaw and tongue problems: Difficulty moving your tongue or jaw as normal, tongue numbness, jaw pain and/or a swollen jaw.
  • Areas of white or red on the inside of the mouth, gums and/or tongue.

Knowing the risk factors and red flag signs makes you an informed patient—and that’s one of the best things you can do proactively to protect your oral and overall health.

For additional topics and information, please see the Delta Dental website