The inside of the mouth is lined with specialized skin (mucosa) that typically is pink in color, smooth to touch, and special surface characteristics depending on the specific location in the mouth. Pathology is a term used to describe something abnormal. The most worrisome abnormality is oral cancer. Changes can occur to the skin lining the mouth, or the structures under the skin. The following are signs or changes that may represent pathology or some of which may be concerns:
- Reddish patches (erythroplakia) or whitish patches (leukoplakia)
- Sores or ulcers that fail to heal or bleed easily
- A lump or growth on the skin or under the skin
- Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
- Difficulty with chewing or swallowing
These changes can be detected in the lips, cheeks, palate and gum tissue around the teeth, tongue, face and/or neck. Pain does not always occur with pathology, and often is not associated with oral cancer. Often the most accurate way to evaluate these changes is by doing a biopsy and looking at the tissue under the microscope. Based on history and good clinical exam, the decision to biopsy an area of concern can be made by the patient and doctor.
We would recommend performing an oral cancer self-examination monthly and remember that your mouth is one of your body’s most important warning systems. In addition, your dentist and hygienist can often be the first persons to note changes in your mouth and we strongly recommend regular visits to your dentist once or twice a year. Do not ignore unusual lumps or sores in your mouth.