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Oral Cancer Symptoms

About 250 Kiwis will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. Oral cancer accounts for around 2% of all cancers diagnosed in New Zealand.

If it's caught early enough, most people can be treated successfully. Oral cancer includes cancer of the tongue, gums, lips, cheeks and other areas of the mouth. Usually, it's identified by sores or lumps in the mouth that do not heal. Oral cancer affects more than twice as many men as women and occurs most often in people over the age of 40.

Symptoms of oral cancer

It's important to understand the early warning signs of oral cancer. Typically, this can be sores in and around your mouth that don’t heal. This might be a mouth ulcer or another sore spot. It could be a red or white patch in your mouth. You may have difficulty eating or swallowing, or notice swelling of your jaws or a lump in your throat. If you wear dentures, you may notice some discomfort.

Be mindful of the following possible symptoms:

  • Mouth sores that don’t heal
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Pain in your mouth
  • Numbness on your tongue
  • Swelling of your jaw

See your dentist or GP as soon as you can if you have any concerns, including any of the symptoms described above.

Causes of oral cancer

There are some recognised common causes of oral cancer. These can include:

  • Smoking
  • Having a high level of alcohol consumption
  • Viral infections such as HPV
  • Exposure to the sun
  • Eating an impaired diet

Your risk of developing oral cancer increases with age. This type of cancer most often occurs in people over 40. Maintaining good overall and oral health can help reduce your risk of developing oral cancer. Make sure you eat a balanced and nutritious diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit.

Get prepared

When you book at one of our dental practices for a problem in your mouth, you want answers and advice as soon as possible. That’s understandable. It’s useful to think ahead about what your dentist will need to know to diagnose and treat you.

Generally your dentist will ask you about your medical history and then thoroughly examine your mouth, teeth, gums, jaw, tongue, throat, sinuses, ears, nose and neck. You may also need an x-ray, depending on what your dentist suspects might be the problem.

Your dentist will ask you some questions, such as:

  • Do you have any pain?
  • How severe is the pain?
  • Where do you feel the pain?
  • Do you have any mouth sores?
  • Do you have any areas in your mouth that you're worried about?

Think about your answers to these questions before your appointment. Being prepared can speed up the diagnosis.

Have questions?

It's important to detect oral cancer as early as possible. If it's detected early, treatment has a better chance of success. There are some common symptoms of oral cancer including mouth sores that don’t heal, pain, difficulty chewing and swallowing, numbness and swelling. See your dentist or GP as soon as possible if you have any concerns.

Typically, early oral cancer symptoms can include mouth ulcers or sores in and around the mouth that don’t heal. There can also be red or white patches inside your mouth. There may be swelling on your gums or jaws. If you notice any of these symptoms or are concerned about your oral health, book an appointment with your dentist or GP.

Some lifestyle habits may put you at higher risk of developing oral cancer. These include smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes, excessive consumption of alcohol, excessive sun exposure and a diet low in balanced nutrition. Family history of cancer can also be a risk factor. Age can be a factor, with people 40 and over at higher risk.

Treatment of oral cancer depends on the type and stage of the cancer, and the patient’s health. Generally, early diagnosis and treatment result in a better outcome. Treatment may include surgery and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy may also be used. Every case is different. Talk to your dentist or doctor as soon as possible if you have any concerns about your oral health.

We get it. We’re New Zealand’s largest group of dentists so we’ve seen more scared patients than any other dental practice in the country. For most people who are scared about visiting the dentist it’s because they’ve had a bad experience in the past. Relax. Our gentle and compassionate dentists understand how you feel. Whether you’re anxious or worried about experiencing more pain or the potential cost of the treatment, the best thing to do is to let us know how you feel. Making sure you feel comfortable is part of our job.

Maintaining good health and oral care can go some way to reducing the risk of developing oral cancer. There are some proactive steps you may want to consider. If you smoke, quit. Reduce alcohol consumption. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. And see your dentist on a regular basis.

We recommend daily healthy habits and regular visits to the dentist. For optimum oral health:

  • Practice good oral hygiene habits at home including brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day
  • Book hygiene visits with an oral hygienist or oral health therapist twice each year
  • Book routine exam and x-rays visits with your dentist once each year

The Lumino Dental Plan is a cost-effective way to ensure your oral health is given the priority it deserves. It’s an affordable ongoing subscription plan that keeps you on top of your oral health. We know that when you look after your oral health properly with regular preventative care, you’ll be less likely to need to see a dentist in an emergency. You’re also likely to spend less money at the dentist over time.

What next

Learn more about what's next by viewing some possible treatments. We recommend you book an appointment with a dentist for specific advice about your symptoms. You can search for your nearest practice and book online today.