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The inside of the mouth is normally lined with a special type of skin (mucosa) that is smooth and coral pink in color. Any alteration in this appearance could be a warning sign for a pathological process. The most serious of these is oral cancer.

The following can be signs at the beginning of a pathologic process or cancerous growth:

  • Reddish patches (erythroplasia) or whitish patches (leukoplakia) in the mouth
  • A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
  • A lump or thickening on the skin lining the inside of the mouth
  • Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
  • Difficulty in chewing or swallowing 

These changes can be detected on the lips, cheeks, palate and gum tissue around the teeth, tongue, face and/or neck. Pain does not always occur with pathology, and curiously, is not often associated with oral cancer. However, any patient with facial and/or oral pain without an obvious cause or reason may also be at risk for oral cancer.


Factors That May Cause Cancer

Research has determined a number of factors that may contribute to the development of oral cancer. The most common are the use of tobacco and alcohol. Others include poor oral hygiene, irritation caused by ill-fitting dentures and rough surfaces on teeth, poor nutrition and combinations of these factors. Studies have shown that the death rate from oral cancer is about four times higher for cigarette smokers than for nonsmokers. It is also widely believed in the medical field that the heat generated by smoking pipes and cigars irritates the mouth and can lead to lip cancer.

Those at an especially high risk of contracting oral cancer are males over 40 years of age who are combination heavy drinkers and smokers, or users of smoke-less tobacco. Keep in mind that your mouth is one of your body’s most important early warning systems. Don’t ignore any suspicious lumps or sores. Should you discover something; make an appointment for a prompt examination. Early treatment may well be the key to complete recovery.

We would recommend performing an oral cancer self-examination monthly and remember that your mouth is one of your body's most important warning systems. Do not ignore suspicious lumps or sores. Please contact us so we may help.


If you have any of the aforementioned signs, see your oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Should the oral and maxillofacial surgeon agree that something looks suspicious, a biopsy may be recommended. This is a procedure that involves the removal of a piece of the suspicious tissue. The piece is then sent to a pathology laboratory for microscopic examination in order to make an accurate diagnosis of the problem. The biopsy report not only helps in establishing a diagnosis, but also enables the doctor to make a treatment plan specifically designed for the type of lesion diagnosed.

Other Abnormalities

Often times, genetic or congenital abnormalities may be a noticeable feature during an oral or facial exam. If you encounter an unusual finding, do not hesitate to contact your maxillofacial surgeon. Many times, metabolic abnormalities such as vitamin deficiencies or reactions to medications cause abnormal changes in the oral cavity or on the face that can be readily treated by simple measures. If you have a congenital abnormality or a condition that could be passed on to your children, consultation with your surgeon is indicated. He or she can recommend courses of action and arrange for genetic counseling if indicated.


If you encounter pain, swelling, or fever associated with a part of the face, neck, or oral cavity, contact your maxillofacial surgeon immediately. Often times, a simple toothache or sinusitis can spread into adjacent tissues and produce an impressive abnormality. Commonly, a simple examination and treatment can eliminate these processes and allow you to return to normal activities within one or two days.

Nevertheless, do not ignore your body’s warning signs. Dismissal of infectious processes can lead to life-threatening circumstances.