Some Mouth Sores May Be Early Signs of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer screening is a routine part of a dental examination. Regular check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions. You may have a very small, but dangerous, oral spot or sore and not be aware of it.

Your dentist will carefully examine the inside of your mouth and tongue and in some patients may notice flat, painless, white or red spots or small sores. Although most of these are harmless, some are not.

Leukoplakia is a thick, whitish-color patch that forms on the inside of the cheeks, gums or tongue. These patches are caused by excess cell growth and are common among tobacco users. They can also result from irritations such as an ill-fitting denture or the habit of chewing on the inside of the cheek. A danger is that leukoplakia can progress to cancer.

Approximately 35,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States. Some 25 percent of those people will die of the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, oral cancer occurs almost as frequently as leukemia and claims more lives than melanoma or cervical cancer.

Your dentist may recommend a biopsy if a leukoplakia appears threatening. He or she will examine the lesion and check the biopsy results to help determine how to manage the identified cause. Treatment generally begins with removing the factors that contribute to the lesion: quitting tobacco or replacing ill-fitting dentures or bridges.

To learn more about the signs and risks of oral cancer, visit the American Cancer Society Web site at

© American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.


Keep your smile bright!

Mouth sores and infections can improve your smile but it’s important to protect it with frequent brushing. Try one of our toothpastes to help keep your smile safe.