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Oral Cancer Awareness Month: Know The Signs

We all know what feels “normal” for us when it comes to our bodies. That’s why, if something is wrong, it’s easy to get alarmed. But sometimes, we don’t pay as close attention to our body’s warning signs as we should, and either ignore them or simply don’t notice them, that goes for oral cancer too. This is why it’s important to have regular medical exams, especially as we get older. For example, you may not notice your vision is getting worse gradually, but your optometrist can examine you and have you seeing better in about 30 minutes. If you’re a woman, you may have a lump present in your breast tissue without realizing it, which is why an annual mammogram after age 40 is so important.

The same applies to your oral health.  Oral health screenings for cavities, gum disease and even oral cancer are extremely important, but they can sometimes be overlooked, especially if you don’t get regular dental exams.

That being said, there are some warning signs you should look out for when it comes to oral cancer that you may not have known about. If you have any of these symptoms, contact Dr. Mingus at once for a screening.

Oral Cancer Warning Signs


Leukoplakia are thick white or gray patches that appear in your mouth or throat. While leukoplakia can be caused by repeated injury to the inside of your mouth, they can also be a sign of oral cancer, especially if you chew tobacco.


Erythroplakia are red patches in the mouth that can bleed occasionally. These red lesions grow slowly and are usually painless, but are still dangerous nonetheless.

Lip Sores

A lip sore that won’t heal or continues to worsen can be a sign of oral or skin cancer. These sores should be evaluated as soon as possible.

Pain or Numbness

Pain or numbness inside your mouth that does not go away is another warning sign of danger lurking in your oral microbiome.

Difficulty Chewing or Swallowing

If you have difficulty chewing or swallowing that you cannot explain, this can be a warning sign of oral cancer and should be taken seriously.

Pain When Speaking

It shouldn’t hurt when you speak. If you find yourself having difficulty talking that cannot be explained by a cold or infection, please visit Dr. Mingus for an oral cancer screening.

Rapid Weight Loss

For many of us, weight loss is a good thing, but when  weight comes off too quickly or without explanation, that is certainly cause for concern and something you should take seriously. 

Ear Pain

Because of the throat’s close proximity to the ears, oral cancer can sometimes cause ear pain. So if your ears are bothering you, it’s best to be screened for oral cancer to rule out any danger.

Causes of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer can be caused by many things, even if you aren’t in a high-risk group. Here are just a few behaviors that might put you at an increased risk of developing oral cancer:

Chewing Tobacco

Chemicals from the tobacco called nitrosamines are believed to be what causes oral cancer. The higher the nitrosamines, the greater the danger they pose to your mouth. It’s best not to use chewing tobacco for the safety of your oral and overall health.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a very common illness that is also sexually transmitted. While no method of prevention is 100 percent effective besides abstinence, to reduce your risk of contracting HPV, it is recommended that you use safe sex practices such as condoms and regular STI testing.


With so many dangerous chemicals in cigarettes, just like with chewing tobacco, it is not recommended that you smoke for any reason. Quitting smoking or not smoking at all can help reduce your risk of developing oral cancer (as well as many other cancers).

Excessive Drinking of Alcohol

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol has been found to cause oral cancer, so try to limit your alcohol intake to two glasses or fewer a day for men, and one glass a day or fewer for women.

Sun Damage

The harmful UV rays of the sun can cause skin cancer, among many other things, and that includes oral cancer. Any cancer that appears on the lips can spread into the mouth, making it an oral cancer, so be sure to apply an SPF even on your lips when going out into the sun.

If you have any questions or concerns about your oral health, please contact Dr. Mingus or your primary care physician for an appointment. Remember: If something feels off, don’t ignore it! It could save your life.