The inside of the mouth is normally lined with a special type of skin called “mucosa”, that is smooth and coral pink in color. Any alteration in this appearance could be a warning for an abnormal, pathological process. There are many, many conditions that can occur in the mouth or jaws, either alone or in conjunction with some other body illness. The most serious of these is oral cancer, which represents about 3 to 4% of all cancers in North America.
Signs to look for:
1. Reddish patches (erythroplakia) or whitish patches (leukoplakia) in the mouth. 2. An ulcer (‘sore’) that fails to heal. 3. A lump, growth or thickening anywhere inside of the mouth. 4. Chronic sore throat, hoarseness, or difficulty swallowing.
These changes can be detected on the lips, cheeks, palate (roof of mouth), tongue, throat, and gum tissues around the teeth. Pain does not always occur with pathology, and curiously is not often associated with oral cancer.
However, any patient with oral, facial and/or neck pain without an obvious cause or reason may also be at risk for oral cancer.
We would recommend performing an oral / facial cancer self-examination monthly and remember that your mouth and your face is one of your body’s most important warning systems. Your dentist should also provide regular oral examinations for pathology or disease, and is often how lesions are first noted.
There are also many symptoms of abnormalities that affect the mouth and/or jaws, such as ulcers (“sores” or “cankers”), discoloured patches of the tissue, burning sensations, enlargement of the jaw bone due to cysts or tumours, problems with salivary glands causing pain and swelling when eating, or a wide range of other findings.
Do not ignore suspicious patches, lumps or sores that persist, as a simple biopsy can usually be done to obtain a diagnosis and provide treatment. Remember that the earlier pathology is diagnosed, the earlier it can be treated, usually resulting in a more conservative treatment and a better outcome.
If a biopsy is indicated to obtain a diagnosis, most times it is a very easy procedure performed under local anaesthesia. The result may take 2 to 3 weeks to receive from the pathologist who examines the tissue under a microscope, at which time you will either be seen in our office to review the healing and result, or you may be called with the result. Recovery from a biopsy in most cases is very quick and without much impact on your daily routine.