There’s a small spot on your tongue that doesn’t seem to go away. You noticed it months ago but it’s painless so you didn’t get it checked out until you visited your dentist for a routine teeth cleaning.

The dentist examines the area and then performs a few diagnostic tests. He suspects that you might have oral cancer but you will need a biopsy to confirm his suspicions. Your dentist makes an appointment for you to see a cancer specialist.

Most of the time those tiny white or red spots in your mouth are harmless. But you will never know for sure unless you get regular dental checkups at least twice a year.

Someone dies from oral or tongue cancer every hour. Oral cancer accounts for about 9,000 deaths a year, according to the American Dental Association. Oral cancer has the worst 5-year survival rate of all cancers because it is rarely diagnosed early.

Harmful oral spots or sores often look identical to those that are harmless, but testing can tell them apart.1

Oral cancer usually affects men and people over 40. But over the past decade there has been an increase in patients diagnosed with oral cancer. This is probably because more teens are smoking cigarettes and the legalization of marijuana in some states.

African-Americans are especially vulnerable to oral cancer; the incidence rate is 1/3 higher than whites and the mortality rate is almost twice as high.2


Poor dental hygiene, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco or weed puts you at a higher risk for developing oral cancer. Prolonged exposure to the sun increases your risk of developing lip cancer.

On average, only half of those diagnosed with oral cancer will survive more than five years.3

Signs and Symptoms

What you should look for:

  • Tiny red or whitish spots anywhere inside your mouth or lips
  • Rough, flat, raised, cracked or crusty areas in your mouth or on your lips
  • A color change in the tissue of your mouth
  • A sore in your mouth that doesn’t heal, or bleeds easily
  • Pain, tenderness, or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together
  • Changes in your voice or hoarseness
  • Prevention and Detection

    The best way to prevent oral cancer is to maintain proper oral hygiene (brushing and floss your teeth after every meal), avoid tobacco and alcohol use and get regular dental check-ups. Also, eating more fruits and vegetables per day reduces your risk.

    Taking one Aspirin per day has been shown to greatly reduce your risk of oral cancer. As well as drinking green tea daily.4

    Get your teeth cleaned by a professional dental hygienist at least once every 6 months. Dental hygienists are trained to look for signs of cancer.


    Treatment includes surgical removal of the lesion or tumor, a radical neck dissection (if the tumor spreads to the lymph nodes in your neck), radiation and chemotherapy.

    This has been your Medical Minute.

    More Info On the Web

    Oral Cancer –

    Oral Cancer Early Detection –

    Dr. Joe Lester – General Dentistry

    Atlanta Dental Center – Hi-tech Cosmetic Dentistry


    Any medical information published on this blog is for your general information only and is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice. You should not take any action before consulting with your personal physician or a health care provider. and its affiliates cannot be held liable for any damages incurred by following advice found on this blog.