Oral Cancer Awareness Month

When we hear the word cancer it might seem like a distance term, or you may have a very personal experience. “1 in 3 people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime” (cancer.org). Cancer impacts many people.   

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, which raises awareness about oral cancer and the importance of completing self-exams.

Oral Cancer starts in the oral cavity (mouth) and the oropharynx (neck and throat). The oral cavity consists of your lips, the inside of your lips and cheeks, teeth, gums, the front two-thirds of your tongue, and the floor and roof of your mouth. The oropharynx consists of the middle region of the throat, including the tonsils and base of the tongue.

This year there will be approximately 54,000 new cases of oral cancer diagnosed in the United Stated, and 43% of those diagnosed won’t survive more than 5 years. 1 person dies every hour. Those dying of oral cancer are often diagnosed after the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. Therefore, early detection is the best prevention.   

Here are five things to know about Oral Cancer.

  1. You can lower your risk for developing oral cancer. Here are things you can do that may lower your risk.
    • Avoid tobacco products: cigarettes, pipes, cigars, vaping, or smokeless tobacco
    • Avoid heavy alcohol consumption
    • Avoid a combination of tobacco and alcohol
    • Avoid human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
    • Maintain a healthy weight and eating pattern
    • Go to the dentist regularly for check-ups to screen for oral cancer
    • Maintain proper oral hygiene


  1. Completing regular self-exams can increase your survival rate. Finding cancer early, before it spreads throughout your body, often has more successful treatment options.


  1. Know the signs and symptoms of oral cancer. If they are persistent and not resolving, having lasted for more than two weeks, see your dental professional. You can always call your dental professional right away if you have any immediate concerns.
    • Any sore or ulceration that does not heal within 14 days
    • A red, white, or black discoloration of the soft tissues of the mouth
    • Any abnormality that bleeds easily when touched
    • A lump or hard spot in the tissue, usually the border of the tongue
    • Tissue raised above that which surrounds it, a growth
    • A sore under a denture, which even after adjustment of the denture, that does not heal
    • A lump or thickening that develops in the mouth
    • A painless, firm, fixated lump on the outside of the neck, that has been there for at least two weeks
    • Difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving your tongue or jaw
    • Feeling like something is caught in your throat, numbness, hoarseness, or a change in voice


  1. Understand the steps for a self-exam. The good news is, if oral cancer is caught early, the long-term survival rate increases. Early detection is key! Perform this 7-step oral cancer self-exam once a month. At each step you are looking for anything unusual, especially any lumps, red or white patches, changes in color/texture or lingering ulcers. Remove dentures or any removable appliances prior to self-exam.


You will need a mirror, a good light source, and clean fingers. A piece of gauze may be used to effectively examine the tongue. A small package of 2X2 gauze is available at most drug stores.


  • Step 1: Face Look at the entire face for swellings you have not noticed before and inspect your skin.
  • Step 2: Neck Run your fingers under your jaw and feel along the large muscle on either side of your neck. Are there any swellings? Does everything feel the same on both sides? Feel for anything firm, doesn’t move about easily when pushed on, enlarged, and it is often painless.
  • Step 3: Lips Pull your upper lip upwards and bottom lip downwards. Look inside for any sore or changes in color.
  • Step 4: Gums Use your thumb and forefinger to examine your gums.
  • Step 5: Cheeks Open your mouth and pull your cheek out, one side at a time, with your finger. Look for any red or white patches. Check for ulcers, lumps, or tenderness.
  • Step 6: Tongue Gently pull out your tongue and look at one side first and then the other. Look under your tongue by lifting the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Look for any swelling, ulcers, or change in color.
  • Step 7: Floor and Roof of Mouth Tilt back your head and open your mouth wide to inspect the roof of your mouth. Lift your tongue up and look underneath at the floor of your mouth. Gently press your finger along the floor of you mouth and under your tongue. Observe changes in color, lumps, swellings, or ulcers.


The Oral Cancer Foundation’s Check Your Mouth TM created a self-discovery initiative that looks for signs and symptoms of oral cancer between dental visits. At https://checkyourmouth.org/wp/ you can also find steps with pictures on how to complete your own thorough self-exam.


  1. Adjusting your oral hygiene routines at home during cancer treatment and after surgery is important. Experiencing sensitive oral tissue may occur during cancer treatment. The many who do survive oral cancer, may have severe facial disfigurement or difficulties with eating and speaking. Here are some recommended oral hygiene aids for sensitive tissue and hard to reach areas.


  • TePe® Interdental Brush Extra Soft: These are small brushes specially designed to clean between you teeth, where a regular toothbrush does not reach. The extra soft bristles are gentle on sensitive tissue. There are 6 different size brushes to fit all varieties of spaces between teeth.


  • TePe Universal Care: The angled neck facilitates cleaning from the tongue side and behind the last tooth. This brush has a slim design to access those hard-to-reach areas, especially any changes you might experience after surgery due to oral cancer.

  • TePe Compact Tuft: This brush has a small rounded tuft to access those hard-to-reach areas, especially any changes you might experience after surgery due to oral cancer.


TePe Oral Health Care is a Proud Partner of National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.®

Throughout April there is a focus on oral cancer, and as dental professionals we know the importance of whole-body health. There are multiple self-exams you can perform to detect cancer early, and early detection could lead to better long-term outcomes and survival.

TePe Oral Health Care believes in prevention and whole-body health, so we have partnered with the National Breast Cancer Foundation. The aim of the Pink Ribbon campaign is to provide help and inspire hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education, and support services. For more information about National Breast Cancer Foundation and for ways that you can get involved– click here!

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