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How to Check for Mouth Cancer at Home

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How to check for oral cancer at home

How to check for oral cancer at home

Why Oral Cancer Has a High Death Rate

Oral cancer is something that most people, including doctors and dentists, don't think about on a regular basis. The death rate for oral cancer is higher than for any other type of cancer, including malignant melanoma, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and cervical and thyroid cancers.

"Oral cancer is hard to detect because it is typically a small painless white or red spot in the mouth, so this is easily ignored. Many people do not have regular dental care, so this is not detected early. In fact, statistically, there is a poor prognosis for oral cancer, and this has not changed over the years," says Dr. Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS.

The high death rate isn't because oral cancer is hard to catch or necessarily difficult to remove, but because it's often caught too late. Over-scheduled doctors are so preoccupied with getting to all their patients in a timely manner that they forget or neglect to perform routine oral cancer examinations. Our trust in doctors also contributes to the problem, with most believing that if the doctor says we are healthy, we are. Yet this is sometimes not the case. To combat cancer and other ailments, we must take our health into our own hands.

This article is in no way a substitute for regular dental check-ups and dental cleanings. However, it will teach you to keep a vigilant eye for anything abnormal in your mouth. Talk with your hygienist about oral cancer the next time you go in, and be sure they do an oral cancer screening every six months.

In the meantime, I will teach you how to check for oral cancer at home. It takes roughly two to three minutes but will probably take longer the first few times you do it.

What Are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, go to your dentist immediately:

  • Mouth sores that don't heal within two weeks or start to bleed
  • White, red, black, or discolored patches
  • Swelling, lumps, bumps, or odd growths that are not found on both sides of the mouth
  • Excessive or spontaneous bleeding or puss coming out of a lesion or open sore
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Difficulty or pain when moving the jaw or tongue
  • A constant feeling that something is stuck in your throat
  • Continuous pain in the ear
  • A persistent headache

What Can I Expect to Find During My Home Examination?

Before I show you how to do a cancer check at home, I want to explain some things you may find in your mouth during your examination that are normal. Oral health is a complex subject, and I can't touch on everything, but here's what you can expect to find:

  • Linea Alba
  • Parotid Papillae
  • Fordyce Granules
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes
  • Exostoses
  • Aphthous Ulcer
  • Circumvallate Papillae

Read on to learn about what each thing looks like and why it's normal.

Linea Alba

This appears as thin white lines inside your cheeks. This is a normal, hyper-keratinized area where you bite your cheeks, or where your cheeks rest between your teeth. The thin line will follow the biting plane or the area where your teeth meet.

Linea alba is normal and is nothing to worry about.

Linea alba is normal and is nothing to worry about.

Parotid Papillae

Also known as Stensen's duct, parotid papillae can be found inside your cheeks, toward the front of your mouth. It is a bump of extra tissue on the inside of each corner of your mouth. (You may sometimes bite them by accident.) These bumps are an outlet for your saliva glands and are normal, unless they are particularly hard.

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Fordyce Granules

These are tiny white or yellowish-white spots on the inside of your cheeks or lips. They are nothing more than ectopic sebaceous glands, which are completely normal.

Fordyce granules are a normal finding.

Fordyce granules are a normal finding.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

Swollen lymph nodes are often associated with illness or inflammation. If the swelling doesn't go away within a week or two, see a doctor. Places where lymph nodes are located include: the front and back of your neck; in front and behind your ears; in the cheek area; and on top of your shoulders. When swollen, they will often be sensitive or sore and may be visible.


This is an extra bone growth commonly found under the tongue along the bony ridge, or on the hard palate. These growths may bulge out and are often rounded, sometimes involving a few bony lumps in one mass. The ones under the tongue are often found on each side of the face, while the ones on the hard palate are often singular.

Aphthous Ulcer

Also known as a canker sore, this is a small to medium, round ulcer. It usually has a white interior and a bright red border. They are very sensitive and can affect your oral hygiene and eating. They should go away within a week or two. Taking zinc will help speed up this process and will also help prevent future canker sores. If the ulcer does not go away within two weeks, you should contact your dentist.

An aphthous ulcer (canker sore) is a normal finding.

An aphthous ulcer (canker sore) is a normal finding.

Circumvallate Papillae

These are large, protruding bumps on the back of the tongue arranged in a V shape. They are the largest of the four types of taste buds, and most people have about 10 to 14 of them.

Circumvallate papillae (taste buds) - normal finding

Circumvallate papillae (taste buds) - normal finding

How to Check for Oral Cancer at Home

1. Check Your Lips

Use bi-digital palpation (pictured below), a tactile method of oral examination in which you use your thumb and forefinger to rule out abnormalities, to feel for any hard lumps or areas of soreness. Pinch your lip by placing your pointer finger on the inside of your mouth, and your thumb on the outside. Apply moderate pressure, pressing the lip tissue between your finger and thumb.

Illustration depicting bi-digital palpation

Illustration depicting bi-digital palpation

2. Check Your Cheeks

Use bi-digital palpation to feel your cheeks. Feel for any hard lumps or areas of soreness.

3. Check the Floor of Your Mouth

Use bimanual palpation (pictured below) to feel the floor of your mouth, which is the area under your tongue. Place the pointer finger of one hand under your tongue, while pressing up with the thumb of the other hand on the outside of the jaw. Directly oppose the finger in your mouth. Feel for any hard lumps or areas of soreness. Press firmly.

Illustration of bimanual palpation

Illustration of bimanual palpation

4. Check Your Tongue

Use bi-digital palpation to feel your tongue. Stick your tongue out and palpate the body of the tongue, feeling for lumps or areas of soreness.

5. Examine the Surface of Your Tongue for Blemishes

Stick your tongue out, grab the tip, and look at each side for any anomalies. The sides of the tongue are the most common places to find oral cancer. Don't confuse varicosities, also known as veins, for something abnormal.

You may also see circumvallate papillae, which are large bumps at the back of the tongue. These are normal. If you notice they are enlarged, don't panic. This can be due to a number of reasons that aren't due to cancer. This includes a viral infection, an allergic reaction, a high-grade fever, a tissue injury, or a nutritional deficiency. However, circumvallate papillae may turn into a cancerous form if it grows enough to get involved with lymph nodes of that region, so it's important to talk to your doctor or dentist if you notice a change.

6. Say, "Ahh"

Stick your tongue out, say "Ahh," and look at your oropharyngeal area, also known as your tonsils, for any inflammation or sores. It is normal for some people's tonsils to have indented pockets in them. Look for features that seem inflamed or out of place, as this is not normal.

7. Check the Roof of Your Mouth

Tilt your head back and look at the roof of your mouth. Look for sores and inflammation. Rule out any burns you may have acquired from eating food that is too hot.

8. Check Your Gums

Pull out your lips and look very closely at your gums. Are there sores on your gums or patches of discolored tissue? Do your gums bleed when you lightly touch them or when they are not provoked at all?

What Are the Risk Factors of Mouth Cancer?

Known risk factors include tobacco and alcohol consumption, which, together, are responsible for about 75 percent of this type of cancer.

"There is a relationship between smoking and alcohol that has been well established. However, now there is also a correlation between HPV and throat or tonsillar cancer in younger people," says Dr. Eleczko.

Other factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Chewing betel nut
  • Drinking alcohol
  • The HPV-16 virus
  • Aging
  • Chronic mouth irritation
  • Poor oral hygiene

How Can I Prevent Oral Cancer?

  • Stop using tobacco or don't start.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation or don't drink at all.
  • See your dentist regularly.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Limit your exposure to the sun. Repeated exposure increases the risk of cancer on the lip, especially the lower lip.

Treatment Options


This involves surgical removal of the tumor and a little bit of healthy tissue around it. If the tumor is small, this surgery will likely be minor, but for a bigger tumor, this could involve the removal of some of the tongue or parts of the jaw.

Radiation Therapy

Oral cancer is especially sensitive to radiation therapy and may be the only necessary treatment for those with early-stage cancer. However, it may also be used in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy if the cancer is more advanced.


If the cancer is more widespread, chemotherapy may be used.

Oral Cancer Facts and Statistics

  • Oral cancer is a common cancer of global concern.
  • Early detection has the potential to significantly reduce death and morbidity.
  • There is an alarming increase in oropharyngeal cancer cases seen in the 18 to 40 age group.
  • Oral cancer is usually completely painless in its early stages.
  • 8,000 people in the US will die of oral cancer this year.
  • 40,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year.
  • Of the 40,000 people diagnosed, only 57% will still be alive in five years.
  • Approximately $3.2 billion is spent on oral cancer in the US per year.
  • Worldwide, 640,000 people will be diagnosed this year.
  • Late stage discovery is not the exception, it is the norm.
  • Discovery of oral cancer at a late stage usually means it has already spread to the larynx and other secondary locations.
  • When discovered at a late stage, the chance of a recurrence is multiplied 20-fold for the next ten years.
  • Around 90% of oral cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, originating in the tissues that line the mouth and lips.

Source: Oral Cancer Foundation

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have one small spot on the right side lower corner, feels like a little round ball. It doesn't hurt, but could it be mouth cancer and should I be alarmed?

Answer: That could just be a plugged minor salivary gland, a mucocele, or salivary duct stone. It could be a lot of things. Without a more in-depth analysis of its size (mm), color, contour, consistency, and texture, there are many possibilities.

Question: Which type of doctor should I consult if I have concerns about mouth cancer?

Answer: Start with the easiest: ask your dental hygienist to take a look. S/he will either find it as a normal finding, or ramp it up to the next level and show it to the doctor (dentist.) If the doctor suspects something, they will refer you, often, to an oral pathologist. They may do a brush biopsy under some circumstances, etc. But in my experience, most patients who came to me with concerns just have a normal finding, or even an abnormal finding that isn't harmful. I have caught oral cancer, too. Your dental hygienist should be doing an oral cancer screening on you at every visit free of charge.

Question: What could a rough spot on my soft palate be?

Answer: A rough spot on your soft palate could be caused by some chronic habit where friction is causing a callous. It could also be caused by mechanical food abrasion or other trauma. If it changes size, begins to exude blood or pus, or becomes painful, go to your dentist right away. Otherwise, ask your dental hygienist to take a look at your next oral healthcare visit.

Question: Recently, my whole mouth started feeling very dry. The insides of my mouth were almost stuck to my teeth if I didn’t talk, eat or drink anything for a half hour or so. Then the inside if my mouth started hurting. This morning I woke up and noticed the bottom of my tongue, on each side, had several white, almost wormy looking things protruding down in a row. I can’t find anything describing this anywhere. What could this be?

Answer: I'm wondering if you've switched toothpaste or mouthwash brands recently? The "white, almost wormy looking things" sound a bit like rolled-up skin that's sloughed off. This is a common allergic reaction to SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) found in many toothpaste brands. This type of tissue sloughing (if that's what it is) commonly takes place beneath the tongue. An SLS reaction would also explain the painful, dry mouth before noticing the sloughed skin. I don't have an image to go by, but this is my best guess with the information given. If that's the case, discontinue use of any SLS-containing oral health products.

Question: Should I be concerned about bumps on both sides of my tongue, as related to this article and mouth cancer?

Answer: They're likely large and toward the posterior (back) of the tongue. If they're a v-shape on top of the tongue: Circumvallate papillae are simply a type of taste bud on the tongue. Large bumps on the sides of the tongue could be lingual tonsils if they've become swollen. Again, without a more in-depth analysis of its size (mm), color, contour, consistency, and texture, there are many possibilities.

Question: I noticed I have a pocket by my tonsil and I can pull what looks like to be a tonsil stone out of my tonsil, which became inflamed only on one side. What should I do?

Answer: Yeah that definitely sounds like a tonsil stone. I get those too. I personally gargle with warm salt water to clean out those areas and keep them clean. Salt is a great antibacterial and is often used in the mouth because of its high success rate. Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt in a glass of warm water, gargle, and repeat until the whole glass is gone. Don't swallow. Do this once a day.

Question: I Have a Black patch on the left side of my tongue, and its almost one to two years old, should I worry?

Answer: Absolutely, be concerned. The side of the tongue is the most common site for oral cancer. That it's black and has persisted for years, is cause for alarm and concern. Please call your dentist and arrange the *earliest available appointment* to check for oral cancer. It may be nothing, but considering you have two of the top signs of oral cancer, and a history of smoking, Do it now. Don't wait.

Question: I have small bumps inside my upper and lower lips should I be concerned?

Answer: Usually, when something is bilateral (on both sides of the mouth), it's a normal finding. These bumps could be minor salivary glands, Fordyce spots (ectopic sebaceous glands), or something else that's likely "normal." However, it's worth getting your dental hygienist to look at them the next time you go into the dentist. If they change size, color, shape, or begin to hurt, go in right away.

Question: I have a white patch on my buccal mucosa for last six to even seven months but it is not painful. Should I be worried??

Answer: If anything "odd" in your mouth persists for over a month, it's time to go into the dentist to get it checked out. It's not something to joke about. I strongly recommend showing your hygienist/dentist as soon as possible.

Question: What if there is linea alba like white line patches on the upper gums above the teeth on the thin muscular layer? Could white line patches on the gums be a sign of mouth cancer?

Answer: You can think of linea alba as basically a callous in the mouth, usually where mechanical stresses occur over and over again. This can include friction that happens chronically. Generally, linea alba is seen where the biting plane meets the cheeks, and not on the gums. However, exostoses (extra bony growths) commonly occur in the area you describe, and often can occur in a row. I could see how to the untrained eye this could be seen as "linea alba" for lack of a better term. So with the little information here, my best guess is exostoses. However, leukoplakia (a reaction to irritation) can also appear in this area and could technically appear as a white line of sorts. The difference between exostoses and leukoplakia would be that exostoses are hard, bony growths beneath the skin that can be palpated/felt, while leukoplakia exists as a lesion in the tissues. That said, there are probably 20 lesions that could match your description. Have your dental professionals take a look at your next visit. If the patches begin to hurt, bleed, exude fluids, form blisters, or change size/shape/color, go see your oral care professional right away.

Question: I have a few bumps under my bottom lip, is this normal?

Answer: There are many minor salivary glands located throughout the tissue of the lips. These can present as small bumps. Ask your hygienist to check at your next scheduled dental appointment.

Question: I have 2 small round bumps on the roof of my mouth. They have been there for about 6 months. They don't hurt. Should I be worried?

Answer: You probably shouldn't be worried unless they're inflamed or painful. Mention them the next time you go into the dentist for your routine maintenance.

Question: I have a raised irritated spot on my cheek where my top teeth end. Is this just irritation? Or a cause for concern? I can only chew on this side.

Answer: To me, this sounds sort of like pericoronitis. It is characterized by a swelling (and potential itchiness) in the fleshy bit behind your backmost teeth. I assume your wisdom teeth and 3rd molars are trying to come in, but it could also just be that you bit that area, or stabbed it with chips or something. Could be food impaction. Before making a dental appointment, keep the area clean. Use a Waterpik, brush properly, and use an antibacterial mouthwash to try to minimize inflammation. But go talk to your dentist. Ask them to take a look at the area because it's bothering you.

Question: If a bump in my mouth comes and goes, is that a good sign?

Answer: Not always. If it keeps recurring there could be deeper underlying issues causing it. Make sure to get it checked out the next time you go in.

Question: I noticed I have a black spot on the inside of my right cheek next to a tooth that has been bothering me lately. Is there a relationship between the two? I can’t tell if it’s a blood blister or something else.

Answer: There's not a lot of descriptive information to go on here. Shooting from the hip, it's likely either an amalgam tattoo, or it could be a blood blister, or even a black cancerous or pre-cancerous lesion. Amalgam tattoos form when a small piece of mercury amalgam "silver" filling shears off and embeds in the oral tissues. It presents as a bluish-black spot in the tissues usually right next to a tooth with a large amalgam restoration. With a painful tooth next door, it's possible that tooth needs a new filling or that any manner of things happened to it. They could be related or completely unrelated. Any way you look at it, go to the dentist if your tooth hurts for another week, or if the lesion changes shape, begins to bleed or exude pus, or doesn't go away after a grand total of 14 days.

Question: I have a growth beside my uvula. It's the size of a pencil eraser and I haven't noticed before today. It feels like there is something stuck in the back of my throat. Could this be cancer?

Answer: Some people have little pocket depressions in their tonsils that trap debris, which can develop into tonsil stones. Stones vary in size from tiny to large, are usually off-white or yellowish, and can be very irritating. I get them myself from time to time and have noticed it feels like something's stuck in my throat. I suggest you go to a dentist ASAP and get it checked out to determine what it is.

Question: I had leukoplakia on both sides of my tongue for about 6 months. The white patches would go away when I brushed my tongue and come back the next day or the night of. Fast forward to when I got a biopsy. The biopsy results came back normal. It said epithelial hyperplasia and hyperkeratosis. What can I do to rid the swelling? I'm a carpenter and notice the swelling gets bad at work when there's a lot of dust and pollutants in the air. Please advise me.

Answer: Anything on the side of the tongue instantly sends up enormous red flags, and leukoplakia is definitely in that camp! What I think you likely have is a pre-malignant / pre-cancerous lesion. If that's the case, you should be working closely with your dentist or oral pathologist to monitor and manage it so that if / when it becomes cancerous, they catch it fast. Not all pre-malignant lesions become cancers; however, they're at a high risk of becoming so. You should go in *right away* if anything changes with your lesion/s at all. Swelling: ensure you maintain immaculate oral hygiene by brushing 2-3 times daily, flossing 1-2 times daily, and using mouthwash. Inflammation is what's causing the swelling, and this could be due to accumulated plaque or improper oral hygiene. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, meat, dairy, and other inflammatory substances. To help relieve the burning, try using a saliva substitute like Oasis, available at any store in the dental aisle. Also, you might want to consider that your dentist "forgot" to tell you that this lesion is pre-cancerous and that you need to watch it. Do with that information what you will.

Question: Can circumvallate papilla become inflamed overnight? The biggest is about 4mm, but has not settled after two months.

Answer: Yes, but after two months of inflammation I strongly recommend you go to a dentist to get checked out.

Question: Under my teeth at bottom of gums, the bottom of my teeth are beginning to show. They bleed when I brush occasionally, but I’ve never noticed them this bad. What could it mean?

Answer: It sounds like you're either brushing the wrong way and hurting your gums, or you may be developing periodontal disease. Please read my new article on this topic:

Question: I noticed a round shape mass sitting on the base of my tongue, it's hardly visible unless I stretch my tongue out, it's right under my Uvula sitting on my tongue, and my Uvula touches the mass, I think that's why I'm having irritation while speaking and I also have a mild pain sometimes. It's been a month, and I'm worried. What this could be?

Answer: Your lingual tonsils could be inflamed, but it's hard to say from here. If it's been a month, it's time to go into the dentist and get it checked out.

Question: Should I be concerned if the under side of my tongue hurts badly, when I wake up there’s a painful white film and bleeds?

Answer: You should be concerned to some degree, since it's clearly agitated. Have you changed toothpastes lately? It could be a reaction to SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), which commonly causes painful, sloughing tissues. Make an appointment with your dentist if, after switching to an SLS-free toothpaste, you still have these symptoms in two weeks. This could potentially be serious and the sooner you catch something, the better!

Question: I have a painless white spot above the right front teeth with a red border for 5 days. Is it a canker sore or cancer?

Answer: It's not a very detailed description of symptoms, so I'm not going to guess as to what it might be. If it doesn't go away in a few weeks, or if it changes in any way, go see your dentist and tell him/her to take a look at it.

Question: I have a red blister and it's sore on the left and right of my tongue, there is also 4 tiny small veins like small roots. Could this be cancer?

Answer: The red blister on the left and right of your tongue might be inflamed lingual salivary glands. Varicosities (veins) are common under the tongue, but you may not have noticed them until you were looking for your inflammation. Maintain immaculate oral hygiene (brushing, flossing, tongue scraping, and mouthwash.) If it doesn't go away with great dental care in two weeks, go see your dentist..

Question: I have a small rash like bumps just after my wisdom teeth, and an itchy patch on the side of my mouth. What could this be?

Answer: To me, this sounds sort of like pericoronitis. It is characterized by a swelling (and potential itchiness) in the fleshy bit behind your backmost teeth. I assume your wisdom teeth and 3rd molars are trying to come in. I had the same issue, and it became so uncomfortable I had my wisdom teeth removed. In the meantime before making a dental appointment, keep the area clean. Use a Waterpik, brush properly, and use an antibacterial mouthwash to try to minimize inflammation. But go talk to your dentist. Ask them to view your X-rays and tell you about impacted 3rd molars.

Question: I have a painless bump full of liquid on the roof on my mouth, is that normal?

Answer: The palate takes a lot of abuse from foods like chips and hot pizza/cheese. It could be a burn blister from food. It could also be a cyst, cold sore (herpes simplex), blocked minor salivary gland, irritation reaction, or any other number of things. If it doesn't go away within 2 weeks, go get it looked at. If it becomes painful, multiplies, grows in size, begins to bleed, or exudes pus, go in right away.

Question: My husband has lost his sense of taste and tongue is sore. What could be wrong with my husband's tongue? Dr said nothing is wrong if he can still smell within 3 mos. Earlier, had epistaxis bad and his nose was satirized 3 times. He is losing weight due to no desire to eat.

Answer: I definitely recommend going to a dentist and explaining your issues to him/her. Loss of taste without loss of smell can be caused by any manner of things (medication, sinusitis, head trauma, aging) and the only way to know for sure is to go in and get assessed in person. Depending on what the dentist determines, your husband will likely be referred to a specialist.

Question: Is it ok to have a hard boney like mass on just one side of your mouth on the outside of your gum on your lower mandible?

Answer: Exostosis (aka torus/tori), or benign bony growths, can occur in one side of the mouth. They're more commonly found on both sides (bilaterally), but I myself have an extra bony growth on my gums that is just on the right side. They usually present on the "outside gums," as you say, under the tongue, and on the hard palate. Generally speaking, they cause no problems with the health of your mouth or teeth. That said, however, they can make taking intraoral x-rays difficult and even painful, depending on their placement within the mouth. I have no effects whatsoever from the exostosis on my "outer gums" at all. In fact, I never realized I even had extra bony growths until I entered dental hygiene school and learned about them. I would say you're probably just fine. Just mention it to your hygienist at your next scheduled maintenance visit if you're intrigued to learn more.

Question: What should I do? I have a white layer on both sides, inside of my cheeks. I took medicines but it is not going away.

Answer: It could be an allergic reaction to sodium lauryl sulfate in your dental products. If so, buy products without SLS. It could also be one of a dozen types of lesions that sound like that, such as leukoplakia. My suggestion is to go into your dentist and have it looked at.

Question: I have redness on the inside of my lips. Can you suggest any remedies?

Answer: You would have to be more descriptive than that. Have you changed toothpaste brands lately? Often sodium lauryl sulfate is the cause of allergic skin reactions in many people, making the gingival tissues red. The tissues eventually slough off. It could also be because you mouth breathe, or that you have severe gingivitis. It's hard to know without more information.

Question: I have small black patches on both of the sides of my tongue. Could it possibly be cancer?

Answer: With the minuscule amount of descriptive terms here, it's hard to say. Often varicosities (veins) beneath the tongue can appear very dark or sometimes even almost black. Generally these would appear bilaterally, on both sides of the tongue. Generally oral cancer symptoms appear on one side of the mouth, not both. This fact alone leads me to believe it's probably something within normal findings. However, if you're concerned, ask your dental hygienist at your next appointment. If these areas begin to hurt, exude fluids, ulcerate, form blisters, or change shape/size/color, go see your dental care professionals right away.

Question: I am missing two of my molars on the left side of my mouth and on top of the gums where they used to be, a white buildup of tissue with cracks in it has occurred. Should I be worried about this growth of white tissue on my gums?

Answer: With the teeth no longer protecting the tissues, the tissues that are left behind can become calloused and white in color. That said, I have no photo to go off of, so I recommend bringing this up to your dental hygienist or dentist at your next dental appointment.

Question: A lump appeared on my tongue and within an hour it disappeared, what could that mean?

Answer: It could have been a mucocele or blocked salivary gland. They can pop or work themselves out quickly sometimes.

Question: I have metasized breast cancer that was also in bones around my left eye. I am now having severe pain in my left ear and jaw. Could it be the cancer has spread again? I was told it was neuropathy of the ear.

Answer: I'm sorry to hear that, and I hope you'll consider natural remedies rather than harsher ones when possible. It sounds like referred pain to me, perhaps, although you need to go to a specialist. I have no images or visuals, and you need to get some x-rays and answers from someone local. Make the appointment today. Symptoms could simply be related to clenching your jaw due to stress, and referring the pain to the zygomatic arch and temporal bone, somewhat common. If you have a sensitive tooth or cavity, this could also refer pain to that area. But with your pre-existing condition, you *need* to act right now and make that appointment. Just get it checked out.

Question: I have blister like sore on the back side of my tongue which is sore, but not all the time. There is also a white spot on front. I have noticed when I brush or have anything spicy, it really burns. This never happened before. My gums also bleed, and it is getting progressively worse. Do I need to worry?

Answer: It's hard for me to know what's going on without more information. Please consider seeing a dentist for these issues. Meanwhile, please consult my article about bleeding gums here:

Question: The roof of my mouth feels like it’s peeling. What is it?

Answer: That's a common occurrence when someone is allergic to SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), a foaming agent found in many mainstream toothpastes and mouthwashes. Discontinue using anything containing SLS. If the problem persists after another two weeks, it's a good idea to go get checked out by your dentist.

Question: I have found a tiny little spot on my epiglottis and I have no idea what it is, it does not hurt, it doesn't grow and I don't have any difficulty in swallowing. What is it because there are no searches of this, would you know what it is?

Answer: Being able to see your own epiglottis is very rare, and indeed I have not yet seen a patient with an enlarged one. But if you really do have an enlarged epiglottis, they're generally benign. The spot could be related to a blood vessel at the surface, or petechiae, but you'd have to go in and ask your dental health professionals to take a look. It's a rare enough condition, if it really is your epiglottis, they should take a look at it anyway.

Question: Hi, I noticed a large, hard white mass growing on the inside of my gums/jaw line. Can you get tumors in your mouth? Could this be cancer? Could it just be a bone spur?

Answer: Torus mandibularis (extra bony growth under the tongue) is one of the most common manifestations of benign extra bony growth in the oral cavity. Generally, these perfectly normal bony growths occur under the tongue (usually bilaterally), on the hard palate (alone or in clusters), and on the surface of the gums (alone or in lines.) They are completely harmless, and the only real harm they present is when they can sometimes interfere with the process of taking intraoral x-rays (depending on the film.) Mostly the effects are due to film rubbing uncomfortably against your extra bone tissues. However, if you're curious to know more, or suspect it may be something else, raise the issue at your next scheduled dental maintenance visit.

Question: I have a red spot on my tongue. Should I be concerned?

Answer: If it doesn't go away in two to three weeks, then it's probably a good idea to go in and get it checked out.

Question: Does anyone know if an orange streak in the throat mean cancer?

Answer: Go see your dental health professional and ask them. I would need a much better description.

Question: I have a few small, faint white striations on the front of my tongue that seem to just be on the surface and not raised. Is this cause for concern?

Answer: Certainly, anything abnormal in the mouth should be looked at by a dental professional; the question is when. White striations on the tongue could be lichen planus, leukoplakia, hairy leukoplakia, or a number of other lesions that aren't identifiable in the current context. They could also be caused by an SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) allergy if you've switched toothpaste brands recently to something containing SLS. Striations could be a reaction to repetitive mechanical or chemical stresses as well. Keep an eye on it for any changes. If it changes in any way at all, go into the dentist. Otherwise, mention it at your next routine dental visit.

Question: I have a small round darl lump on the inside corner of my mouth, I thought it was a blood blister but it has went away in about 2 months. Could this be cancer should I get it checked or is it nothing to worry about?

Answer: It really depends on what you consider "small" (we measure in mm), and a description of its color, contours, consistency, and texture would certainly help. I don't know what a "darl" lump is, so not sure if that's a typo. Whatever it was sounds like it went away. I suggest mentioning it to your hygienist / dentist at your next routine appointment. If it recurs before then and bothers you, go in earlier.

© 2013 Kate P


Ernest Festus Awudey from Ho, Ghana. on August 15, 2020:

Thanks for sharing this educative article.

Laci on May 28, 2020:

I have a big bumb next to my tonsil just on one side it hasn’t been there one it constantly feels like there’s something stuck in my throat even when I try to swallow it’s all one lump but it look like there three indents in it?

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on May 13, 2020:

@Soneyyah, Please head to your regional hospital to get assessed. @Angelo, Try switching to oral products that do not contain SLS.

Soneyyah Ojenya on May 11, 2020:

I have a mass growing by my cheek side and it's not round. It's hanging and gets bigger everyday, really painful. It is white by the tip. Please what is it cos where I live doesn't have a dentist

Angelo on May 08, 2020:

Hi, I recently have been concerned, because i have loose/peeling skin in the inside corners of my lips, to the point where if anything rubs it it will fall off, Ive had it for a week now. Is this a sign of anything or it it normal?

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on April 06, 2020:

@Jalynn, When given the right general circumstances to thrive, any chronic inflammation in the mouth can eventually lead to the development of oral cancer.

Jalynn Norwood on April 05, 2020:

Can canker sores turn into mouth cancer?

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on April 05, 2020:

If you think you're having issues, go see your dentist or oral pathologist right away. I can't stress that enough. This site is for informational purposes, not diagnosis or treatment of any kind.

Ayyan on April 05, 2020:

I'm feeling like something stuck in my throat or below that from last 2 months i don't what it's but I'm not feeling good from this i cant study i don't what happens it comes and goes and thr are large bumps inside toung please answer someone

Riler on March 27, 2020:

Small non painful white kinda translucent bump on bottom middle of my tongue. Not growing in size but not going down either.

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on March 13, 2020:

Hey All! I strongly suggest that if you're worried enough to post your symptoms here, and you read this entire article and didn't find an answer - Please head straight to your dentist to get checked out in person. Nothing can be determined through distance or descriptions, and I hope you'll seek care with a dentist in your area!

Crystal on March 12, 2020:

I have some red dots on the roof of my mouth and my throat feels dry and numb and the roof looks Really textured, it’s been like this for like 3 weeks now

Adrian on March 06, 2020:

I have enlarged papillae on the right side of my tongue (where my wisdom tooth is, I have a pericoronitis since 3 years). One lump is also at the back of the tongue, almost on the tonsil.

Also I have found like 2-3 grey-white spots, about 2-3 mm in size, which are on the very back of the tonsils, almost not visible anymore with the normal eye, which are also hardened. I have visited my doctor but she said it was no reason for concern. Still I am concerned that she might have overlooked something. I'm afraid there might be more of these spots deeper down the throat, where I can't reach with my eyes.

Hamzat on March 06, 2020:

I can see my fungiform papillae with my naked eye through glass but it doesn’t painful, it’s full the tips of my tongue and side and back

jmostreet on December 12, 2019:

I have a red blister like bump on the inside of my cheek...

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on October 29, 2019:

Most of the questions posed to me here can be answered with a simple piece of advice. My advice is: if it worries you enough that you want to actively ask me questions about it, then go into your dentist and get it checked out in person. Dentistry is a very visual practice, and it's impossible to give accurate readings from a keyboard. When in doubt, go in! It's not gonna kill you, but it could save your life!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 24, 2019:

This is an excellent, very informative article. I am a RN, but I didnot know much of this informations and it is appreciated.

Kayla on September 01, 2019:

I have a bump on the bottom of my lip but it’s not painful what do you think it is and should I go check it out

Danny on August 22, 2019:

I have a small white bump on inner part of the cheeks towards front of mouth . From the article it seems to be paratoid papillae but I am not sure . It doesn’t pain while I press it .

CJ on June 05, 2019:

I appreciate your time and help!

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on June 05, 2019:

@CJ, Just as a heads-up, I recommend taking anything regarding the mouth to oral health specialists instead of general doctors or hospital staff. Generalists have a poor track record of catching oral diseases of all kinds, including cancer. That said, this could of course be a few things, and if you really want to know, head to your dentist. It sounds like it could simply be a squamous cell papilloma, caused by human papillomavirus (HPV.) This can present as a benign skin-colored lesion on the tongue. Another possibility is that one or a few of the taste buds on your tongue have become inflamed. With the small amount of information given, it's hard to say. But if it concerns you, if anything about the lesion changes at all, or if it persists for more than a few weeks, definitely head to your local dentist to get it checked out.

CJ on June 04, 2019:

I have developed a single hard white lump on the surface of my tongue, nearly an inch from the tip. It is entirely painless. It grew to the point I was able to twist the top part of it off; again no sensation. I went to the doctor but she kind of just glossed over it. I've had it for 4 weeks now, and it's not going away so it can't be normal. I'm concerned that it may the start of a cancerous growth, although I understand they usually begin on the sides of the tongue, not the top. Should I get a second opinion? What else might it be?

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on May 25, 2019:

@Kate B, Chronic smokers often experience something called nicotine stomatitis, but generally we see this specifically on the hard palate. In this condition the palate will be white, with lots of little red dots / petechiae. Leukoplakia is a lesion that can occur due to chronic irritation from smoking. Aged leukoplakia can feel rough, and can be found in the areas you mention. Like its cousin erythroplakia, leukoplakia is considered a pre-cancerous lesion and should be watched closely by dental professionals. Smoker's melanosis presents as brown spots within the tissues of chronic smokers, such as on your tongue. Smoking permanently stimulates melanin production in those areas. However, you can reverse it if you quit. Generally the spots will disappear within 5 years. Given all of the potentials and all the unknowns here, I think you should go in and have a thorough oral cancer screening just in case.

Kate B on May 24, 2019:

Hi. I feel a rough patch on the inside of my cheek, which is lightly coloured yellow and has a red spot. I am also finding several distinct brown spots on the tip of my tongue, and lighter red/brown spots on the sides of my tongue . All painless, but the patch on the inside of my cheek is the most worrying to me. I am a light but regular smoker, (definitely quitting now though). Is this something to worry about?

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on May 18, 2019:

@Sarah C, I think the answer is obvious, considering the novella you just wrote about your symptoms. Go in to your dentist and get it all checked out.

Sarah C on May 18, 2019:

Hey there, this is probably me just being paranoid, but lately I'm wondering if there's anything actually to be concerned about or not. Just for some background I've always had really bad acid reflux from when I was a child and about 5 days ago I got a really bad dose of reflux, which I recover pretty smoothly from. However this time about a day later I get a real painful ulcer at the tip of my tongue and the feeling that some kind of furball is lodged in my throat. I didn't think anything of it at the time until I suddenly kept getting ulcers on my tongue, and it became incredibly painful and uncomfortable even if my tongue was simply resting. This went on for a couple of days and got worse, not to mention inflammed my papillae, and I am now having slight issues tasting anything, though only to a small degree. I checked this morning and noticed I have a quite thick yellow/white coating on my tongue and behind that large bumps pale white in the center leading down my throat (Not in a V shape as far as I can see, may I mention but may still be the same thing) never saw them until today, and also have similar bumps along the sides of my tongue. I've also experienced pain in moving my tongue and a mild pain when swallowing, throat lozenges aren't making much of a difference unfortunately. Should I get this checked out or will it likely pass? Sorry for the large explanation

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on May 08, 2019:

@Jamie Sewell, It sounds, minimum, like you've got a chronic inflammation issue in that area. Even though the mouth tissues heal rapidly, sometimes it's difficult to stop re-agitating an inflamed area due to talking, eating, etc. Canker sores can develop due to chronic inflammation, although clustering might mean it's something viral. I would recommend, for the moment, sucking on lots of zinc lozenges throughout the day (don't chew; place next to inflamed areas and let them dissolve.) Try that for a week. If you don't see any improvements, find it difficult to eat or drink, or if your symptoms worsen, head into your dentist right away.

Jamie Sewell on May 08, 2019:

I cut the inside of my cheek with my fingernail about 1 month ago, now the inside of my cheek is like one huge canker sore and it seems to be spreading towards my lip, on the inside only and these are little white sores. I have swished peroxide and when I do this the whole side bubbles up from it. What could this be?

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on October 02, 2018:

@Teri, Sorry I can't be of more help, but I'm not sure. There are thousands of things it could be, but if they've taken a biopsy then you should have your answers soon. I'd be curious to know what you find out.

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on October 02, 2018:

@Veeranag, Without a more in-depth analysis of its size (mm), color, contour, consistency, and texture, there are many possibilities. I suggest you go to a Dentist. Just based on the little information you've given (yellow patches), it sounds a little like fordyce granules (ectopic sebaceous glands), which are often a yellow color. Again, there's too little information to go on here. Go see a dentist as soon as possible.

Veeranag on October 02, 2018:

Hi all,

I am suffering lite yellow patches on inside cheek since last two months...I don't have any pain.i went to ENT specialist he took blood tests....And too he found my AEC count is range between 40-440 but I have 474....He said allegry....But still I have doubt again i went to another MS ENT he said I 100% assure it's not a cancer......He gave me capsuls but still no recovery ....Again I went MD general physican he has 40 years experience...He also gave capsules for 20 days.....Can you please guide me any what is this that oral cancer?

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on September 26, 2018:

It could be a number of things. It's hard to say what it could be without a more descriptive explanation of the contour, consistency, shape, and size. Meanwhile maintain an anti-inflammatory diet (no meat, dairy sugar, or gluten.)

Teri on September 26, 2018:

I recently had a biopsy on a white bump towards the back of my tongue by the big taste buds if not on one of the big taste buds. It is white looks like a big pimple or cyst. After removal it became bigger and painful I am waiting on results of biopsy. What could that be.?

Audray J Keller on April 27, 2018:

I have always bitten the inside of my cheek. Usually end up peeling some skin off but heels within a day or 2. I while back I noticed a sore and it's not painfully feels like I cld pull the skin off top of it but it hasn't heeled itself. I have been very stressed the last yr and I do smoke. Is this something to worry about? Not painful. And no on in my family has had be4

Bernadette Hollywood on February 22, 2018:

Thank you good information.

Mia on January 13, 2018:

Very informative. I've had oral cancer screening & was told I was OK. However, I have a persistant painful hard pimple inside the underlying rt. gum area. It gets infected with an abcess often & I've taken strong anti-biotics. Was diagnosed as Oral Neuroma? I also have a similar one in the lower rt. palette. that was diagnosed as an ulcer? Reading your info is educational & causes deep concern. Will be checking this out further.

lou on September 08, 2017:

hi i have a small what looks like scratch on my my front gum. i have'nt scratched it and it doesnt just appeared...had it a few months...what could it be?

SBLproductionsYY on August 30, 2017:

hello, im 26 been chewing off an on for about 8yrs i recently quit smoking i smoked for 10yrs, ive noticed weird bumps on the side of my tongue near my wisdom teeth, with lots of pain, swollen tonsil an hurts to move my tongue, could this be a early sign?

Jeanie on August 30, 2017:

Can oral cancer appear as matching ulcers on both sides of the back of the throat, just before the tonsils?

Junnie on January 14, 2017:

Thank you. Because of your article I will be going to my dentist to check for oral cancer. Didn't even know about that. Am always feeling like something is in my throat and always think it will go away.


nitin on September 03, 2016:

pain on one side face tabacoo use s form 12years

Sergio on December 01, 2015:

Useful information, thank you!

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on September 28, 2015:

Thanks for the comments, I appreciate them! Elsie, I'm glad you caught it early and happy you went in. Peachpurple, thanks.. the intention is to promote awareness, I guess it worked! :)

peachy from Home Sweet Home on September 28, 2015:

wonderful tips especially the photos, freaked me out

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on August 27, 2015:

Excellent article.

I have just had a large lump removed from my top lip, (now only half of a top lip), I have had this lump about thirty years, but in the last year it started growing (very quickly) it was ACC cancer, which was very rare growing in the lip 9only twelve cases recorded in the world.

We should always get lumps checked out.

You are right about the doctor watching the clock instead of looking after the patient, my doctor say's if we have more than one health problem, make another appointment, which of course I never did, that is why this lump slipped by for so many years, (it was picked up because I had skin cancer on my nose), now my only hope is that cancer hasn't spread to other parts of my body through the nerve centre, living each day hoping all is well.

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on April 15, 2015:

Indeed, all modern hygiensts take multiple in-depth courses in oral pathology, histology, and so forth. However, there is a gap between learning it and putting it into practice. Many offices charge a fee for a cancer screening. My philosophy is that it's my ethical duty to conduct one at each and every appointment--and this includes a full head and neck exam as well. Whether the dentist charges a patient or not is not my concern, and has no bearing on the service that I render to my patients in this regard. Thanks for reading! :)

Whatsittoyou from Canada on April 15, 2015:

Are all hygienists trained to screen for oral cancer before they graduate or do they need to go for special training for it? If not, they should really make this a part of the training that they originally take.

Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin on April 14, 2015:

Some disturbing photos. But very good information on how to check for cancer.

Ana Maria Orantes from Miami Florida on February 26, 2015:

Hello miss faceless39. I like your article.Visit to the Doctor is important as well the self examination. Your article provides with awareness of a terrible disease. It is sad and scary . The tongue is essential for our existence. I looked it up everyday when I clean my teeth. After looking at the picture in your hub . I am going to be extra careful. I like your hub. Thanks.

Judy Specht from California on November 09, 2014:

This is a great hub. My dentist does an examine similar to what you suggest every time I go in for a cleaning. Nice work.

noorudin on October 22, 2014:

Extra bone growth (single = torus; plural = tori) is commonly found under the tongue along the bony ridge, or on the hard palate.

i have also this condition

Chad Young from Corona, CA on March 26, 2014:

Great hub. If this helps one person you've done a great service to make people aware of oral cancer. Maybe some day we'll have a cure for cancer, but until then we need to be proactive.

Sonja Larsen from Orange County, California on March 16, 2014:

This was a very-well written and helpful article. Crazy pics too! Thanks so much for sharing.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on February 04, 2014:

Very helpful and informative article on oral cancer and what to look for.

Leah Kennedy-Jangraw from Massachusetts on February 04, 2014:

Very informative, easy to follow article. Great use of links, pictures, and stats. Thanks for sharing this information and how-to.

Voted up and sharing.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on January 11, 2014:

This is a very well-done and very complete explanation of how to check for oral cancer. I'm surprised that doctors don't perform this check in a normal annual physical. It's great that you have made the effort to spread the awareness of oral cancer.

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on January 02, 2014:

Thank you all for the positive feedback. My goal is to spread awareness of this disease, and it looks like so far it's working. I appreciate your comments!

Aida Garcia on December 30, 2013:

Excellent article, well-written and very precise! Follow me!

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on December 29, 2013:

Very well written and detailed article, quite a handy guide for detecting any possible signs of oral cancer. Up and useful.

The Reminder from Canada on December 29, 2013:

Nice ways to quickly check out if there are any signs of the cancer. Voted up.

leakeem from Earth on December 23, 2013:

It's the first time I heard of Oral Cancer. Nice to know that there's a quick way to check it. Voted up!

Linda Rogers from Minnesota on December 23, 2013:

Very well written and thorough article on checking for oral cancer. The photo's really help make this easy to read and understand. Hit many buttons and voted up.

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