I do not know the exact number of cases of diagnosed oral and throat cancer this year. I do know that it is over 40,000 cases in America and most of those do not survive 5 years. I also know that a visit to your dentist every 6 months will reduce the risk of invasive oral cancer. I do an oral cancer checkup with every cleaning and if a patient visits on a regular basis I am able to keep an eye out for changes in their mouth and neck that may be red flags to something more serious. Suspicious changes can be caught early when treatment is more successful.
With the exception of children, I tell all my patients to be wary of a sore that will not go away, to be wary of red or white patches and to make note of pain or numbness in the mouth or lips. If there is any difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking, a call for an appointment with your dentist is a must. Any change in your oral cavity (lips, cheek lining, gums, front part of your tongue, floor of the mouth and the hard palate that makes up the roof of your mouth) should be the red flag that makes you get to the dentist immediately.
Causes of oral cancer are linked to smoking and heavy use of alcohol and, recently, the HPV virus. Please do not wait for your concern to be "bad enough" to see a dentist. If you are concerned, let's check it out and, hopefully, it will not be worth worrying about.
The National Cancer Institute has resources on oral cancer at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/oral. The American Dental Association's consumer website, MouthHealthy.org, also features information about oral cancer.