Oral Cancer: Detailed Symptoms and Types

The topic of cancer is terrifying and people often avoid talking about it. But it is imperative to have extensive discussions on this topic to increase awareness about one of the deadly diseases encountered by the human race.

There are various kinds of cancers named according to the location of the body where they develop. Oral cancer is one of them.

Oral cancer, also called mouth cancer, is the sixth most prevalent type. It is the condition where a malignant tumor develops in the lining of the oral cavity. Tumors can grow on gums, the lining of the cheeks, palate, lips and the tongue.  In severely rare cases, oral cancer can spread to the salivary glands, tonsils and pharynx.

Statistics from oral cancer cases in the US are not very encouraging. According to the projections of the Oral Cancer Foundation, which researches the rate of occurrence of all the previous years, nearly 50,000 US citizens would be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. Out of which, roughly 10,000 will succumb to the fatality of the disease.

These high mortality rates associated with oral cancer is clearly suggesting that we have to educate our citizenry about this deadly tumor in a more extensive manner. In this article, we will shed light on the comprehensive signs, symptoms and different types of oral cancer in order to increase awareness among our readers.

Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Oral cancers can appear with a very wide and diverse range of symptoms. Here, we will discuss them categorically because no symptom of oral cancer should be overlooked.

Internal Symptoms

Symptoms appearing in the lining of the mouth are the most common. Internal signs of oral cancer are:

  • Growth of thick and smooth or speckled red and white patches in the oral cavity
  • Formation of lumps, sores, bumps with extra swelling and eroded skin inside the oral cavity and lips
  • Inexplicable bleeding inside the oral cavity

External symptoms

Oral cancers also show some external signs. Even though they are rare and not necessarily related to the development of a malignant tumor but it is advised to consult your physician or dentist in case you notice any of them.

  • Persistent bleeding sores on the facial area and neck which are not healing even after a fortnight
  • In some cases, chronic ear pain is also experienced by the patients
  • Weight loss is also witnessed in many of the oral cancer patients

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms include signs which appear while moving the anatomical features located in and around the facial region.

  • One of the signs of oral cancer is a growing difficulty in chewing and swallowing
  • Verbal communication also becomes difficult due to immobile tongue and jaws
  • Another sign of oral cancer is the altered way of how your teeth fit together

Change in voice, sore throat with difficulty to explain, lack of sensation in facial region and neck can also be the symptoms of developing oral tumor.

Types of Oral Cancer

Every type of mouth cancer is different from the other due to its different phase of development, treatments and mortality rates. Some of the common types of oral cancers are discussed here:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The lining of oral cavity and throat is made of squamous cells. Malignant tumor starts to develop when some of these cells undergo abnormal growth. Almost 90 percent of oral cavity tumors belong to this type.


This type of oral cancer occurs with the development of tumor in lymph tissues (tonsils) present at the back of the oral cavity. Tongue gets badly affected in lymphomas.


It is a condition where white patches appear on the tongue. Most of the leukoplakia cases get healed with conventional treatments but there are nearly 25 percent chances of it to transform into a cancerous tumor.

Salivary Gland Carcinoma

Salivary glands are present in the lining of oral cavity and throat. Salivary gland carcinoma happens when these cells start to get replicated in the form of tumors. This type of oral cancer is also called adenocarcinomas.

The above discussion details the conditions and symptoms of oral symptoms. In the next article, we will talk about the treatments and preventive measures for oral cancer.



The Psychology Behind Oral Hygiene

Woman using dental floss
Photo by Wavebreakmedia – yayimages.com

For thousands of years, people did not brush their teeth. These ‘ancient’ people didn’t have access to toothbrushes or toothpaste to care for their oral hygiene. Yet their teeth were without any dental problems or cavities. They were effectively immune to oral health problems, an attribute which is a far cry for people of today.

There are numerous reasons for this. The most important of which is that their diet consisted of natural and unprocessed foods such as vegetables and fruits.  These natural foods did not contain preservatives or chemicals, so instead of weakening the structural integrity of their teeth, the food made their teeth healthier and more resistant to dental infections.

The natural foods contained a high amount of fiber which naturally served to keep their teeth clean by removing food and bacteria from their teeth. You could argue that their food served as a makeshift toothbrush of sorts. All they required to clean their teeth and keep them a whiter shade of pale was to just keep eating.

This is no longer the case for most people because their foods are now deficient in vitamins, minerals and fiber. To make things worse, the foods come loaded with chemical preservatives, which foster the conditions the growth of bacteria.

This created the need for people to brush their teeth for oral hygiene

Most people remember to brush their teeth at least twice every day, but flossing, which contributes to the other half of oral hygiene care takes a beat seat. People tend to forget flossing their teeth. Presumably, because it’s typically harder than brushing their teeth and inserting a piece of string in between the crevices of their teeth creates an icky sensation, a feeling which they would rather avoid.

Brushing your teeth is simpler and requires much less of an effort. The ensuing fresh breath serves as instant gratification for them. This is enough for most people to continue brushing their teeth as a daily habit. But the same cannot be said of flossing their teeth because the results are not immediate.

Our brain is conditioned to only perform actions which serve immediate rewards and prefers to defer those actions to a later time which give rewards over a long period of time. Flossing is a habit which will only give them gratification 10 or 20 years down the line, a time period most people don’t have the patience to contend with and tend to forego the process altogether.

So why do people continue to brush their teeth?

When people spend long periods of time without brushing their teeth, a small coat of plaque begins to grow around the teeth. This coat of plaque reminds them of the cleaner teeth they had just a few hours ago. They begin to crave after the cleaner teeth. These are all the cues they need to pick up the brush and clean their teeth until this layer of plaque is removed.

This is not the case for flossing because there is no immediate reward. It doesn’t feel like it works. It feels like a waste of time, energy and effort. They could have spent all this time watching TV or reading a comic.

But scientists have proven that flossing will play a definitive role in preventing teeth decay, preventing teeth from falling out, preventing gum disease and keeping the teeth healthy. All of this will, in turn, save people expensive dental trips and an unimaginable amount of pain.

How to develop that habit?

It’s clear that developing a habit of flossing your teeth is vital to the long-term wellbeing of your oral hygiene. Researchers are of the opinion that in order to develop this habit among both adults and children alike, you have to trick the brain into autopilot mode. This is done by creating a clearly defined reward system in place, something which the brain can look forward to on a daily basis.

Creating a reward system in place

This reward could range from the flavor of the floss to rewarding yourself with an appetizing snack after flossing. This reward system will eventually condition the brain into autopilot mode.

Making it easy to floss

Now obviously this reward is relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things and one can easily run out of motivation, especially when there is a dearth of floss in the house. The struggle to retrieve floss from a far-off location in exchange for trivial reward will quickly kill this habit. For this reason, it is important to collect a large supply of floss and keep them stashed around the house, so the brain doesn’t have to struggle.

This could hopefully develop a habit of flossing one’s teeth on a regular basis.

Types of Dental Specialists and Their Importance for Oral Health


Having your teeth and mouth in good shape is important for many reasons. With poor dental health, you run a higher risk of acquiring numerous diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, compared to maintaining good oral health. In addition, especially for our younger crowd, you might find it difficult engage in social activities because of the fear that bad teeth and breath might tarnish your first impression on others.  Due to such importance of oral health, the field of dentistry is not limited to just general dentists anymore. More specialist subfields have been developed in this branch of medicine in order prevent, diagnose and repair dental issues that the average dentist does not have to means to do.  In this article, we will look into these specialist fields and their importance for maintaining optimal oral health.

Endodontist- Ensuring the Health of Dental Pulp and Periradicular Tissues

Endodontists are those specialized dentists that have accomplished the training of endodontic therapy which is commonly known by the term ‘root canal therapy’. Dentists equipped with the knowledge of endodontic therapy have expertise in the physiology, pathology and morphology of periradicular tissues and dental pulp.  

Dental pulp and periradicular tissues are strongly associated with each other.  All the blood vessels, tissues and nerves surrounding the teeth root are referred by ‘periradicular tissues’, while the dental bulb is the central living connective tissue of a teeth. Dental pulp and periradicular tissues play important role in the formation of dentin, a calcified tissue essential for having strong and healthy teeth.

Orthodontist- Rectifying Crooked Teeth and Jaws  

Orthodontics belongs to that part of dentistry where dentist get the formal training to rectify the improperly cited teeth and misaligned jaws. This type of oral cavity issues can make it difficult for people to eat properly. People with crooked teeth also shy away from social interactions.

Orthodontics comes to the help of individuals suffering from all such issues. Orthodontists are skilled with the knowledge to perfectly employing dental fixtures (braces, aligners, headgears etc) to address the misalignment problems of teeth and jaws. Usually, general dentists after initial consultation refer patients to orthodontists.

Pediatric Dentist- Helping in Initial Oral Development

It is a known fact that dynamics of teeth is very different during infancy and teen years. Human teeth need extra care during childhood. Many adults suffer from oral health issues just because their teeth were not properly taken care of during their earlier development phase.  

This factor highlights the importance of pediatric dentists who are specialized in taking care of the oral health of children and ensure better dental growth and development in them.

Maxillofacial Surgeons—Improving Functional and Aesthetical Features

Maxillofacial surgeons are usually required in more specialized cases of dental and oral concerns. In simple words, maxillofacial surgeons are the orthopedic surgeons treating the facial and oral regions to resolve both aesthetic and functional features of the area. For instance, they can carry out facial reconstructive surgery as well as remove impacted teeth.  

Maxillofacial Pathologists

Unlike maxillofacial surgeons, pathologists of the same domain are focused on finding the underlying causes of oral health problems. Maxillofacial pathologists have undergone the training to perform oral biopsies for the sake of diagnosis.


In some cases where natural oral anatomy can’t be fixed, dentistry has to come with biocompatible substitutes that can assist a patient with the same functionality of damaged and lost oral and dental features.  Prosthodontist are trained to address these issues with options of dentures and veneers. They also take care of the ongoing maintenance and functionality of these biocompatible oral prosthetics.

Dental Public Health  

Apart from the above-discussed specialist fields of dentistry. There is another non-clinical realm called Dental Public Health (DPH). DPH specializes in addressing the dental health issues of a whole community. Dentists operating in this domain are focused on the better oral health of a group of people instead of individual patients.

DPH specialists usually make use of their expertise in these areas:

  • Ensuring that the entire community is getting sufficient dental health education
  • They also devise oral health programs to tackle the common and most prevalent dental issues in the community
  • They are also responsible to introduce measures for the prevention of large-scale oral and dental diseases

Gum Disease and Seniors

Nurse with Elderly PatientIn our recent article we spoke about the possibilities of getting gum disease. In this article, we will be focusing more on the possibility of senior citizens getting gum disease and how we can help them avoid gum problems and help them maintain good oral health.

More than 17% of people over 65 have periodontal (gum) disease. Statistics have shown that older adults over 75, current smokers and those with lower incomes are more likely to have periodontal disease. Gum disease is the most common cause of tooth loss among the population.The disease is usually the result of an infection of the gums and surrounding tissues that hold the teeth in place. Overall, the prevalence of gum disease in seniors has decreased from the early 1970s, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Despite this improvement, seniors are still at a higher risk than other population groups for developing gum disease and other issues with their oral health.

Seniors Require Attentive Care

Unlike adults within the range of 18 – 60, proper dental care is for the most part, routine; however, many elderly citizens may need a little more prodding than the average adult. There can be a variety of reasons for this. Seniors tend to forget more than other people, especially if they become senile or are feeling the beginning of dementia. Loved ones and caregivers need to pay more attention to the ones they are caring for so that oral health is not overlooked. Offer them assistance with brushing and flossing. If they are self-functional, take them to the dentist every six months or more frequently if necessary. The bottom line is to pay as much attention to their oral health as you would for their physical and mental health.

Types of Gum Disease

The two forms of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis, both infections, and both are preventable with regular dental hygiene. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease where the gums become red, swollen and maybe bleed easily. Periodontitis is more severe and the infection can damage the soft tissue and bone that support teeth, resulting in gums pulling away from teeth and forming pockets that can become infected. Gum disease can be a painless condition until the advanced stage. At this point, the gums, bone and ligaments supporting the teeth could already be damaged.


“Realistically, about three out of four patients who come into the hospital have gum disease and don’t know it,” said James Sconzo, M.D., Chief of Dental Medicine at New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. “Certain medical issues, like diabetes, can result in a higher risk of gum infection.” Elderly Americans are affected by gum disease because many take prescription or over-the-counter drugs, which can result in dry mouth. Dry mouth leads to gum disease because saliva, which helps to wash away food debris and reduce plaque, decreases significantly. Dry mouth Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging but it is a side effect in more than 500 medications, including those for allergies or asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, depression or anxiety, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. This is just one reason why it’s very important to tell your dentist about any medications that the senior is taking. Your dentist can make the best recommendations to help relieve dry mouth symptoms and prevent cavities and periodontal disease.


Prevention for periodontal disease and cavities includes very thorough daily brushing and flossing, as well as regular trips to the dentist for a deep cleaning that includes preventative X-rays and plaque removal. Periodontal disease is typically diagnosed through X-rays. Treatment usually starts with a deep cleaning and depends on how much of the mouth is affected and how infected the gums are, gum surgery might be required. The extreme deep cleaning procedure requires local anesthetic before removing plaque under the gums. Other methods of prevention include drinking plenty of water in those with dry mouth as well as using sugar free gum and lozenges to stimulate saliva production, using a humidifier, and avoiding drinks that worsen dry mouth such as coffee, alcohol, fruit juice, and carbonated soft drinks.

Caring for Elderly and Disabled

When you are caring for someone who is confined to a bed or nursing home, they might have so many health problems that it becomes easy to forget about their oral health. However, it’s still important to pay attention to oral and dental health in the elderly.

Bacteria from the mouth can easily be inhaled into the lungs and cause pneumonia. Those over 65 are also at a higher risk of developing oral cancer. Specialists that work with the elderly routinely check for oral cancer symptoms. These specialists are dentists that treat gum disease in the elderly and disabled. You can locate a specialist through the Special Care Dentistry Association’s referral directory.

For those who take care of elderly that wear dentures, pay close attention to their eating habits. If they’re having difficulty eating or are not eating as much as usual, denture problems could be the cause. If you are a representative for a resident in a nursing home that needs dental care and is enrolled in Medicaid, there is a regulation called an Incurred Medical Expense (IME) that can help pay for medically necessary care as determined by a dentist. A Medicaid caseworker at a nursing facility and the dentist providing care can work together to apply this IME to pay for needed dental benefits.

Tips for Healthy Teeth

Woman Smiling
Can’t beat a healthy teeth and a beautiful smile!

Fifty percent of people say that the first thing they notice about a person is their smile, according to a recent study conducted by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. If your teeth are chipped, discolored, or damaged, this can affect your willingness to smile. But not to worry, a healthy and white smile is attainable if you follow these dental tips:

Toss Your Brush

The average toothbrush contains millions of bacteria, which includes E.coli and Staph, according to the University of Manchester in England. Replacing your brush gets rid of those pesky germs that linger on your brush even after washing. Don’t forget to replace your brush or brush head, if using an electric toothbrush every three months. Be sure to also replace your brush when its bristles get frayed and after each time you are sick. Always use a soft brush when brushing your teeth. “Hard bristles actually wear down your tooth structure,” says dentist Maricelle Abayon from Rochester, New York.

Eat Healthy

A healthy diet is good for our bodies and for our teeth. Eating healthy provides us with the nutrients and fiber we need to keep our teeth strong, healthy and free from disease. Eating foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates such as candy, juices and smoothies can increase the production of plaque acids that attack the enamel of our teeth. Based on studies, one exception could be dark chocolate. For healthy, strong teeth, stick to fibrous whole fruits and vegetables instead of juices or smoothies. The fiber in these whole fruits and veggies helps to naturally rinse away bacteria and food particles from the teeth. Leafy greens also help promote oral health because they are high in calcium and folic acid which may help treat gum disease according to the American Dental Association.


Brushing your teeth is key to healthy teeth and gums. Toothpaste contains fluoride that helps teeth become resistant to decay and even helps remove early decay. Gently brush your gums as well as your tongue while you brush your teeth to remove any food particles and plaque. You don’t need to brush your teeth too hard. Plaque itself is loose and soft, so you don’t need to scrub. Try not to rush through brushing your teeth. Turn on the timer on your phone or put on your favorite song while brushing. Make sure to brush your teeth between two to three minutes for optimal protection against cavities. According to the American Dental Hygienists Association, “It takes two minutes for the tooth enamel to take in the fluoride in toothpaste, making the tooth surface more resistant to bacteria.”

Floss Every Day

Flossing twice daily is very helpful in removing decay causing plaque. It is a very important part of maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Flossing regularly might seem like an annoyance, but it takes only a minute or two and helps remove food and bacteria stuck in the spaces between the teeth that brushing or mouthwash can’t remove. When these spaces between the teeth are left unclean, it can lead to plaque and tartar, as well as bad breath. Keep your teeth healthy and fresh by flossing twice daily, especially before bed and in the morning. 

Visit Your Dentist

A professional dental cleaning from your dentist every six months will help remove any buildup of plaque and tartar. Plaque is a sticky film that contains bacteria that hardens and becomes tartar. If tartar is not cleaned, it can start to produce acids that damage the bone that supports the teeth. This can cause periodontal disease which can lead to tooth loss. Your dentist will also be able to check for plaque, cavities and any other dental problems during your checkup. When caught early, teeth and gum problems are much easier to treat, keeping your teeth healthy and pain-free.

Stop Smoking

Smoking is bad for your health, especially your lungs and your heart. Smoking is also very bad for your gums and mouth. Smoking discolors the teeth, making them turn yellow in just a short amount of time. Long term smoking can turn teeth brown, due to the nicotine and tar in cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco can also wear down your teeth which can expose the roots of the teeth leaving them more susceptible to decay. Smokeless tobacco such as chewing tobacco allows harmful chemicals to come into direct contact with teeth and gums, causing rapid tooth decay, gum disease, and even oral cancer.

Thumbs Up for Chocolate!

It sounds too good to be true. Dentists are suggesting that it’s okay to eat chocolate in moderation.  I think I may have died and gone to heaven.

Dark Chocolate Bars
Dark Chocolate has many health benefits, not the least, it is rich in anit-oxidents

As a chocolate lover, to hear this news has put an insanely big grin on my face. But while everyone is agreed that candy is bad news for teeth, why are dentists putting it around that chocolate of all things, may actually be beneficial for teeth? Let’s delve a little deeper….

There are lots of health benefits associated with eating chocolate, especially since it releases endorphins which are kind of feel good hormones. These are released when we’re feeling happy and doing things we enjoy like eating tasty food or exercising. But results from recent studies carried out in the US, Japan and the UK bolstered previous theories that chocolate is also effective at fighting plaque and tooth decay. In fact, they go as far as to say that chocolate doesn’t deserve its reputation as a cavity causing treat.

In fact, get a hold of this …… chocolate may actually prevent cavities!

Now here’s something really amazing! It turns out that certain compounds in chocolate may do a better job of fighting tooth decay than fluoride! Yep, you read that right. Researchers are actually predicting that one day we’ll all be brushing and rinsing with toothpaste and mouthwashes that contain CBH – a compound found in chocolate.

The appliance of science

Tooth decay is caused by the natural bacteria found in the mouth which turns sugar to acids. This causes the enamel coating to gradually erode and cause cavities. Compounds contained in the husk of the cocoa bean have an antibacterial effect which helps to stop plaque from forming. In other words, chocolate is less harmful for our teeth than other sweet foods that we’re warned against eating. Simply, the antibacterial properties found in cocoa beans offset any high levels of sugar that they contain.

So, talking about the cocoa bean extract… why is it more effective in fighting cavities than fluoride?

The CBH compound in cocoa is formed of white crystals and has a similar chemical structure to caffeine. It actually helps to strengthen tooth enamel making those who use it, less susceptible to tooth decay. So far, the effectiveness of this particular compound is still in the testing stages and has only been proven in the animal model. So it’s likely to be another two to four years before the product is given the go-ahead for human use, and is available for sale in the form of toothpastes and mouth washes.

But hey, in the meantime you can start ‘self-administering’ a dose of this ‘dental super food’ by eating three to four oz of chocolate every day. It’s a particularly delicious way to ingest this wonder compound and lower your risk of getting cavities. I’m still pinching myself that dentists are cautiously recommending chocolate. I mean …. for most of us chocolate is far more than a food – it’s a therapy.

So what sort of chocolate is best for our teeth?

Well, before you reach out for that beckoning Twix bar, here are a few things you should know….

It has to be said that dark chocolate is the best for teeth and as an added benefit, it’s great for your heart!. If you take a look at the sugar content of the three main types of chocolate, then in terms of grams of sugar per ounce, white comes in at 17, milk at 15 and dark chocolate at 14. Although they’re not poles apart, over time the sugar content can quickly add up and as you know, the more sugar you have, the more at risk you are of getting cavities – so you’ve been warned.

With that said, dark chocolate is rich in anti-oxidants – the ingredients that fight off free radicals. In addition, it is good for your heart and helps fight cancer. Dark chocolate has vitamins C, A, E and D and contains the minerals iron, phosphorus and copper.

While chocolate lovers may agree on its therapeutic value, the not so good news is that the best form for your teeth is cacao nibs. The trouble is that it doesn’t taste all that great.

So, what’s the second best option?

It’s dark chocolate containing less than six to eight grams of sugar, and organic wherever possible. Remember, chocolate is high in calories, so eat it in moderation, and keep a close eye on the calorie count, especially if you’re on a diet. Raw chocolate is even better because the antioxidants haven’t been messed with during processing.

So, go ahead and enjoy a square or two of chocolate, safe in the knowledge that you’re doing this for your teeth, but also you’ll benefit from a happier mood .



Oral Health and It’s Relation to Depression

Depressed PersonDepression is one of the most diagnosed mental health disorders in the United States today, impacting as many as 14.8 million American adults. It can be a debilitating illness, affecting your ability to perform daily tasks and negatively impacting your quality of life. There are a number of ways oral health may be connected to our mental health, according to a myriad of studies. Periodontal disease has been associated with some mental health disorders, particularly clinical depression.

Why You Do Not Want to Get Gum Disease

A 2010 study found significant associations between oral health, depression and quality of life. The link between the two may be multi-faceted. First, depression can lead to teeth clenching and grinding, which can increase the risk for periodontal disease. Depression also increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, which could in turn create a ripe environment in the mouth for periodontal disease.

On the flip side, if you do acquire gingivitis (a result of too much bacteria in the gums. It is less severe than periodontitis; however, gingivitis can be a prerequisite to the disease, if not treated properly), it surely will give the person an uncomfortable feeling. If he/she is already in a negative mental state,and you acquire periodontal disease, you could easily fall into depression.

Consequences of Depression

This feeling of gloominess can suppress the immune system, which may make it hard for your body to fight off bacteria in the mouth (and anywhere else in the body) which can subsequently result in infection.

Consequences of depression can be poor eating habits that can directly impact the health of your entire body, including your teeth and gums. At the same time, the symptoms associated with depression like sadness, fatigue and loss of motivation could affect how well you care for your teeth, which could lead to periodontal disease over time. Even the medications used to treat depression can dry out the mouth and consequently, less saliva (a bacteria fighter) will result reduced protection for your teeth and gums. This is why people with chronically dry mouths tend to have a higher incidence of periodontal disease.

Because there is such a compelling link between oral and mental illness, you should share your medical history with your dental provider to ensure you are receiving the oral care you need the most. A healthy smile does much more than enhance your appearance and increase your self-confidence. It will make you feel better as well and the healthy habits you use to retain that bright smile may also benefit your body and mind in a myriad of ways. One tip for maintaining oral health is to start young, so if you have children, get them in the habit of brushing and flossing early. If you find yourself in a depressing situation or in the group that is prone to depression, why complicate it with poor oral health?

Bottom line: Oral hygiene is an important part of any healthy regimen, both now and in the future.