Oral Cancer or Canker Sore: How to Tell the Difference

Oral cancer can pose a serious health risk. Consequently, many patients become concerned when they develop unusual spots or sores in the mouth.

Oral Cancer or Canker Sore: How to Tell the Difference

Although ulcers and lesions in the mouth are often canker sores — which are relatively harmless — some can be oral cancer. Finding a sore in your mouth can be scary, and you may not know whether to schedule a professional evaluation or to take the wait-and-see approach.

Knowing the differences between canker sores and oral cancer can help, but if you have any doubt, it’s advisable to schedule a visit with your oral surgeon.

Identifying Canker Sores

Pain is the defining difference between canker sores and oral cancer — cancerous lesions are usually painless. Plus, in most cases, canker sores go away on their own within a week or two.

The strange spot in your mouth is probably a canker sore if it’s:

  • Small and shallow
  • Round or oval-shaped
  • White or yellow with a red border

Keep in mind that not every canker sore is painful, and some sores can take six weeks or longer to fully heal.

Signs of Oral Cancer

Unlike a canker sore, a cancerous ulcer won’t heal on its own.

Other signs of oral cancer to watch out for include:

  • Mouth sores that bleed
  • White, red or mottled patches
  • Thickened tissues or lumps
  • Numbness anywhere in the mouth
  • Stiffness, pain and swelling in the jaw
  • Prolonged sore throat or hoarseness
  • Feeling like something is caught in the throat
  • Loose teeth with no apparent cause
  • Poorly fitting dentures

When caught during the initial stages, cancer is highly treatable. So if symptoms persist for more than two weeks, seek out professional care.

When to Visit Your Oral Surgeon

If you notice a strange spot in your mouth and you’re concerned that it might not be a canker sore, make an appointment with your oral surgeon as soon as possible. A professional evaluation can either rule out cancer or put you on the path to treatment.

You should also schedule a visit if you experience unusually large canker sores or recurring outbreaks. Extreme pain and difficulty eating or drinking are also signs that you need to see an oral surgeon. In addition, professional care is a must if you suspect your sores may be triggered by dental appliances or sharp tooth surfaces.

If you believe you need to have a mouth sore checked by an experienced local oral surgeon, schedule an appointment with either Dr. Partridge or Dr. Maxfield at Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah.

Our board-certified oral surgeons have extensive experience in identifying and treating a wide range of oral health conditions. For expert diagnosis and professional, compassionate care, contact our Cottonwood Heights, South Jordan or Tooele office today to schedule an oral cancer screening.