Thousands of Canadians are diagnosed with oral and throat cancer every year.  Luckily, the survival rate is high for those who are diagnosed early.  Going to the dentist regularly can help in early diagnosis.  Regular oral cancer screening is also recommended to ensure that any cancer is caught as early as possible.

The oral cavity consists of the tongue, the palate, the lips, the inner cheek lining, the gums, and the floor beneath the tongue.  All of these should be checked thoroughly during dental visits and screenings.

What to expect during an oral cancer screening

At the start of the screening, the dentist will ask for your health history.  He or she will then examine the mouth and throat for any signs of cancer. This involves a visual inspection of the mouth as well as palpitation of the throat and jaw.

Signs to watch for

Regular checkups are the best way to keep an eye out for oral and throat cancer.  However, you can also watch for these signs and symptoms to have checked out:

  • Irritation in the mouth or throat that does not go away
  • Red and white patches along the cavity
  • Numbness, pain and tenderness in the mouth and/or lips
  • A lump or thickness or a rough spot
  • Difficulty speaking or moving the tongue and jaw
  • A change in the way the teeth fit together.

Factors that contribute to oral and throat cancer

Those who smoke and drink heavily over the age of 50 are at the highest risk for oral and throat cancer.  Human papilloma virus (HPV) is also associated with cancers in the throat and back of the mouth.  Cancer associated with HPV can be very difficult to detect, resulting in a relatively high morbidity rate for HPV-related oral cancer.

Oral hygiene during treatment

While being treated for oral and/or throat cancer, it is especially important to keep your oral cavity clean.  Keep the mouth moist by drinking lots of water.  Ice chips can reduce irritation.  Brush your teeth after every meal, and floss once a day.  If brushing causes pain, soften the bristles with warm water.  During cancer treatment, make sure not to use mouthwash that contains alcohol, and use toothpaste as prescribed by your dentist.


It is important to participate in oral cancer screening if you smoke, but even non-smokers should be checked regularly.