Expert Commentary

Oral Cancer: What it is, What it looks like, What you can do to prevent it

Udo Schütte, DDS

Assistant Professor, New York University School of Dentistry
Clinical Practice, Prosthodontic Associates, PLLC, New York, NY


Oral cancer is almost always identified during a routine dental exam, reinforcing the recommendation that people visit their dentist at least once a year. Dr. Schütte explains that early detection is crucial. When this cancer is discovered before it has spread to other tissues, the cure rate is nearly 90%. However, more than half of oral cancers have already spread, usually to the throat or neck, by the time they are identified—and about 1 in 4 persons with oral cancer die because of delayed diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Schütte describes the white plaque or ulcer inside the mouth that may be an early sign. The spots most commonly appear on the lips or tongue, but they can also appear on the cheek lining, floor of the mouth, under the tongue, on the gums, or on the roof of the mouth. If the white plaque or ulcer does not go away within 1 month, it is essential to make an appointment with the dentist for an evaluation. To cut the risk of oral cancer, Dr. Schütte suggests avoiding smoking or other tobacco use and limiting or avoiding alcohol. In addition, practicing good oral hygiene, getting regular dental check-ups, and having dental problems corrected can cut the risks of oral cancer.


1. American Dental Association. Oral Cancer. Accessed October 2, 2011.

2. Oral Cancer Foundation. Oral Cancer Facts. Accessed October 12, 2011.


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