Oral Pathology: Signs, Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors

What is oral pathology?

According to the American Dental Association: “Oral pathology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of pathology that deals with the nature, identification, and management of diseases affecting the oral and maxillofacial regions.” In other words, oral pathology refers to diseases of the mouth.

Types of Oral Pathology

Oral pathology examples include:

  • Periodontal disease (gum disease)
  • Oral cancer (the most serious type of oral pathology)
  • Cold sores
  • Canker sores
  • Malocclusion (misalignment)
  • Candidiasis (Thrush)
  • Hairy tongue
  • Dental cavities
  • Hand, foot and mouth disease

The inside of the mouth is normally lined with a special type of skin (mucosa) that is smooth and coral pink in color. Any changes in color or texture could be warning signs for an oral disease.


5 Signs that Indicate Serious Oral Pathology, or Oral Cancer


  1. Reddish patches (erythroplasia) or whitish patches (leukoplakia) in the mouth
  2. A sore that fails to heal and bleeds easily
  3. A lump or thickening on the skin lining the inside of the mouth
  4. Chronic sore throat or hoarseness
  5. Difficulty in chewing or swallowing

These changes can be detected on the lips, cheeks, palate, and gum tissue around the teeth, tongue, face, and/or neck. Pain does not always occur with pathology and, curiously, is not often associated with oral cancer. However, any patient with facial and/or oral pain without an obvious cause or reason may also be at risk for oral cancer.


Oral cancer is the most serious type of oral pathology.

An estimated 53,000 new cases of oral cancer arise every year in the United States. “Oral cancer” comprises any type of cancer in the mouth and/or the back of the throat. Oral cancer is a very serious disease that can be fatal if left undiagnosed and/or untreated.

Risk Factors and Causes of Oral Cancer:

Common causes and risk factors of oral cancer, or mouth cancer, include:

  • Long-term tobacco use
  • Long-term alcohol use
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Excess body weight
  • Overexposure to UV light
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poor oral health

Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer

Common signs and symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Mouth sores that don’t heal
  • Abnormal lumps or thickening of tissue in the mouth
  • White or reddish patches in the mouth
  • Ear pain
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing
  • Mouth bleeding
  • Swelling or pain in the jaw
  • Significant weight loss
  • Changes in the bite


How to Preform Self-Exams for Oral Cancer

We recommend that everyone performs an oral cancer self-examination monthly to ensure that oral cancer is not developing. Detecting and treating oral cancer early is essential for minimizing damage and preventing further health complications.

According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, oral cancer has an 80% to 90% survival rate when found in the early stages of development. Follow these steps to assess for oral cancer once a month:

  1. Remove any dentures.
  2. Look and feel inside your lips and the front of your gums.
  3. Tilt your head back to inspect and feel the roof of your mouth.
  4. Pull your cheek out to inspect it and the gums in the back.
  5. Pull out your tongue and look at its top and bottom.
  6. Feel for lumps or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) in both
    sides of your neck, including under the lower jaw.

Remember, your mouth is one of your body’s most important warning systems. Do not ignore any suspicious lumps or sores. If you notice any changes in your mouth, please schedule an appointment with us right away. We want to help you keep your natural teeth and smile for a lifetime! Early detection is absolutely essential for treatment.


Still have questions about oral pathology?

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions. We’re here to support you and your gums! If you’re looking for a top periodontist in Tampa or New Port Richey, we’d love to meet you. Request an appointment today.


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