‘Painful’ ulcers that do not heal can signal cancer, doctor warns

Liverpool: Man pulls own teeth out as he can't get NHS dentist

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As with any illness, the sooner you spot the symptoms of cancer the sooner you can seek treatment. And in the case of mouth cancer, it is thought early detection of the disease can raise your chance of survival from 50 to 90 percent. However, there are concerns some of these symptoms could be missed due to current difficulties in accessing dental services.

Consultant clinical oncologist and medical director of Proton Therapy UK, Doctor Shanmugasundaram Ramkumar, spoke with Express.co.uk to explain further.

He said: “Signs of mouth cancer are often first spotted during routine dental check-ups when dentists will perform a visual check of the cheeks, tongue, gums, lips and the roof of the mouth.

“However, it is currently difficult for people in many areas of the country to access NHS dental care. This may lead to routine check-ups being missed or delayed.”

It comes as the Health and Social Care Committee recently launched an inquiry into NHS dentistry, following claims 90 percent of dental practices across the UK were not accepting new adult NHS patients.

Dr Ramkumar cited “painful” ulcers that do not clear up within a few weeks as a symptom of mouth cancer.

He also warned of the following signs:

  • Unusual persistent lumps and bumps in the mouth and neck that do not go away
  • Bleeding or numbness on the tongue or lip
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Painful swallowing
  • Red or white patches in the mouth.

How to check for signs of mouth cancer

Dr Ramkumar advised checking your mouth for symptoms at least once a month.

“Ideally you want the surfaces of your mouth to look pink and healthy,” he said.

“It’s a good idea to get into the habit of taking a look inside your mouth every month.

“Ulcers in the mouth should heal within three weeks, and the same goes for lumps on the cheek and/or neck.

“Pay close attention to any unusual changes in the mouth, especially if you smoke or drink excessive amounts of alcohol as this can put you at a higher risk of developing mouth cancer.

“Unexplained loosening of your teeth should also be assessed by a professional.

“Look at both sides of your tongue and underneath your tongue for any changes.

“Use your fingers to pull your top lip up, and look for any lumps or discolouration.

“Do the same with your bottom lip by pulling it down.

“Use your tongue to feel for any abnormalities on the inside of your cheeks, or use your fingers to do this by running them along the inside of your mouth.

“If you notice anything unusual in your mouth, or have any concerns, see a dentist or your GP without delay.

“These symptoms don’t mean you have mouth cancer, but it is always best to check.”

Common treatments for mouth cancer include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

According to the Mouth Cancer Foundation, more than 8,000 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer every year in the UK.

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