According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 54,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with oral, oropharyngeal, and other head and neck cancers yearly. Oral cancer occurs most commonly in the tongue, cheeks, throat, floor of the mouth, lips, and minor salivary glands. They can appear as small red or white spots or painless mouth ulcers that don’t heal.
Mouth cancers are more common in people over 40, particularly men. The death rate associated with oral cancer is particularly high because it’s usually discovered in an advanced stage. Early detection is key to increasing your chances for a favorable recovery.
The National Institutes of Health found that head and neck cancers account for about 4% of malignancies annually in the United States—more than 68,000 diagnoses in 2021. Head and neck cancers can appear in oral cavities, in the throat or behind the nose, in the nasal cavity, in the voice box, and/or on the floor of the mouth near the jawbone.
Soreness and swelling from surgery can make it uncomfortable to chew and swallow. The removal of large tumors may also affect your ability to speak.
Since cells in your mouth, neck, and chest are sensitive to radiation, foods can have a bitter or metallic taste, or you can experience dry mouth after treatment. Other side effects include:
Chemotherapy slows down the ability of oral tissue to repair itself. It can also upset the healthy balance of bacteria in the mouth and result in:
During your dental checkup, your dentist will carefully inspect your face, neck, lips, mouth, jaw, and neck for sores, spots, and lumps. Screening for oral, head and neck cancers takes just a few minutes, but it can ensure that any potentially cancerous or precancerous lesions will be caught early and successfully treated. Be sure to tell your dentist if you’ve noticed a sore or lump in your mouth that doesn’t heal, pain, or numbness in your mouth or lips.
If you have a history of oral, head, or neck cancer, our Oral Health for Total HealthSM program provides you with two cancer screenings and additional preventive dental services that can help manage oral health side effects if you’re undergoing cancer treatment.
These valuable services are available to enrolled members at no extra cost when you visit a participating dentist.
If you have health and dental plans from HMSA and have been diagnosed with oral, head, or neck cancer, you’re automatically enrolled. If you don’t have a health plan with HMSA, you can easily enroll online.
Once enrolled, all you need to do is make an appointment with a participating dentist. You can find a dentist in your plan’s network at hmsa.com/find-a-dentist.
Check our provider directory to see if your dentist is in-network, or find a participating provider.
Have a qualifying medical condition? Enroll to receive enhanced dental benefits that promote your overall health.