Many of us suffer from mouth ulcers from time to time. I know that if I eat too many tomatoes, I’m likely to get a couple of ulcers. Mouth ulcers are a common complaint from denture wearers; stress can cause them, and any trauma to the mouth may also result in ulcers appearing. There are many different products available now to help improve the discomfort and to heal the area, so that even if ulcers are a nuisance, they are easily treatable.
So what happens when an ulcer does not heal? What if that ulcer has been present for more than a couple of weeks, and no gel or mouthwash seems to be touching it? Should you leave it, hoping that it will clear up in a few more days/weeks, or do you go to your dentist and get them to check it out? That ulcer may seem to be the same as others you have had in the past, sore but more of an annoyance.
Chances are that it may be nothing then a normal run of the mill ulcer, but isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? I’m sure the dentist would rather check it than ignore the issue. If the ulcer did turn out to be a cancerous lesion, then the sooner it is diagnosed the better. As with all cancers, every second counts so I would rather be over cautious and get it checked out as soon as I started to become concerned.
If an ulcer has been present for more than two weeks, keeps growing and is becoming more painful, then make an appointment to see your dentist or doctor as soon as possible.
Mouth cancer may not always present itself as a mouth ulcer. Other possible signs could be a white or red patch, lumps or swelling in the mouth, jaw or neck that persists for 3 weeks or more, difficulty in swallowing and chewing, difficulty moving your tongue or jaw, a sore throat, mouth numbness, feeling that something is stuck in your throat and, in some cases, it has been reported that teeth have become loose with no explanation as to why. All of these signs may turn out to be nothing to worry about, but if any persist for more than a few weeks, then it is best to get them checked out.
One of the reasons patients are advised to see a dentist every 6 months is that not only will the dentist check the health of your gums and teeth; they will also be on the lookout for anything sinister, like the early signs of oral cancer. They will do this by thoroughly checking the mouth, and examining the face and neck.
There was a story covered recently in the news about a man who noticed an ulcer on the side of his tongue but was only prompted to seek medical advice when he saw a picture of oral cancer on a cigarette pack. He was lucky that he saw his dentist quickly as the ulcer was cancerous. However, because it was caught in an early stage, the cancer had not spread to other areas. This man had to have half of his tongue removed and skin grafts were performed to repair the area.
Can you imagine losing half of your tongue? It would affect things that you take for granted, like eating your food easily, your speech and so on. Even though it sounds like this man had to endure vigorous treatment to rid him of this cancer, the good news is that it did just that and his cancer has been successfully treated. What would have happened if he had not seen that picture of oral cancer? Would the cancer have spread? The chances are that it would, and that a much more invasive treatment would have been necessary.
According to Cancer Research UK, 6,500 people were diagnosed with oral cancer in 2010; that’s approximately 18 people a day. Also, 2,000 people died of this terrible disease in 2010, and that is an average of 5 people a day. If there is anything that is concerning you, like an ulcer or lump(s) in the mouth, do not wait to see if it improves. If you are worried, then that is a sufficient reason to get it checked out. It may be nothing, but ignoring the signs could be a decision that you end up deeply regretting.
Stay safe, be aware of the signs and get to know your mouth and skin. A little bit of attention to your oral health could save a lot of pain and invasive surgery in the future; in extreme cases, it could even save your life.