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Get the Facts about Oral Cancer

When you see your dentist regularly, they can clean your teeth, correct common issues like cavities, and help you keep your gums healthy. But there’s another way your dentist can help you stay healthy that you may not know as much about: spotting the earliest signs of oral cancer. The sooner cancer is diagnosed, the better, so a routine dental appointment can sometimes be lifesaving.

Know the Warning Signs

Cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the body grow and spread. In cases of oral cancer, this causes tumors to form in the mouth or throat, including the:

  • Lips
  • Tongue
  • Cheeks
  • Floor of the mouth
  • Sinuses
  • Pharynx (the top part of the throat, behind the nose and mouth)

These cancerous cells can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Bumps or rough spots on the lips or in the mouth
  • White or red patches in the mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding, numbness or pain the mouth or throat
  • Sores that do not heal within 2 weeks
  • Chronic hoarseness or sore throat
  • Unexplained ear pain
  • Changes in the alignment of your teeth or the fit of your dentures
  • Difficulty swallowing, chewing or speaking

If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can. The prognosis (outcome of treatment) for cancer is better the sooner it is diagnosed.

Common Risk Factors

Anyone can be diagnosed with oral cancer, but it is more common among some populations than others. The top risk factors are:

  • Tobacco use. 85% of head and neck cancers are connected to tobacco use. This includes chewing tobacco, cigarettes, and pipes. There is not a safe way to use tobacco products.
  • Frequent alcohol use. For head and neck cancer survivors, even moderate alcohol use can put them at risk for a recurrence of the disease.
  • Gender. Oral cancer affects 2 men for every 1 woman. The difference between the genders used to be higher, but increased alcohol and tobacco use among women has led to an increase in cases.
  • Exposure to human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. It has been linked to cancers of the oropharynx (the back of the throat).
  • Age. People over the age of 45 are at a higher risk.
  • Poor oral hygiene or lack of access to dental care. Poor oral hygiene may be linked to an increased cancer risk. In addition, regular dental appointments increase the chances of cancer being diagnosed early, before it spreads to other parts of the body.

These risk factors can increase a person’s chances of developing oral cancer, but it is still possible to get it even if you are not in a high-risk group. Regular screenings are an important part of staying healthy for any adult.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Although your dentist can detect possible symptoms of oral cancer, they cannot make a diagnosis. Instead, they will refer you to a doctor for testing. Cancer is typically diagnosed with a procedure called a biopsy, in which a sample of tissue that might be cancerous is removed and sent to a lab for testing.

If cancerous cells are found, more testing will be scheduled to determine how far the cancer has spread, also known as its stage, which can be 1 through 4 (usually written in Roman numerals as I through IV). A Stage I cancer has not grown extensively and is limited to one area in the body. A Stage IV cancer has grown larger or has spread to other areas.

Oral cancer is a serious illness that can be life-threatening. Once it’s diagnosed, it’s important to start treatment as soon as possible. There are different treatment options your doctor may recommend, based on the details of your diagnosis. Treatment may involve one or more of the following:

  • Surgery to remove the cancerous tissue
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy, which uses chemicals to kill cancer cells
  • Targeted drug therapy, which uses drugs that stop cancer cells from growing
  • Immunotherapy, which uses different drugs or procedures to help your immune system fight back against the cancer cells

How long treatment lasts will vary, depending on the plan your doctor creates and how your body responds to the treatments you receive.

Taking Care of Your Oral Health

There are important steps you can take to reduce your risk for oral cancer:

  • Don’t use tobacco products. If you smoke or use chewing tobacco, it’s never too late to quit. Your doctor may have recommendations for programs or products that can make quitting a little easier.
  • Avoid drinking heavily.
  • Take care of your teeth and gums by brushing and flossing twice a day.
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Check your mouth in the mirror once a month to look for sores, redness or white patches.
  • See your dentist twice a year for regular checkups.

If you’ve noticed any changes in your mouth, tongue, or throat, or if you’re experiencing any pain or discomfort, don’t put off a trip to your doctor. It’s always better to get potential problems checked out by a healthcare professional.

Anxiety-Free Dental Care Have you ever put off a trip to the dentist because of anxiety or discomfort? At LifeSmiles by Randy Mitchmore, DDS, we specialize in pain-free dentistry in a soothing, friendly environment. Whether you need a routine checkup or advanced dental solutions, we can help. Contact us to schedule your appointment.


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Sally May-Frankum
Dental Hygienist

Sally’s favorite part about working with the team at LifeSmiles is the fun she has with her co-workers. Additionally, she appreciates working with Dr. Randy Mitchmore because much like her, he values whole-body health for his patients. She’s proud to be part of a team that does such high quality work.

Outside of the office: Sally enjoys being with her children and grandchildren and uses writing as a creative outlet. On the weekends, she can be found doing all things outdoors including hiking and biking.


Bucket List: Going to Europe, exploring every US state, and zip-lining.

Hero: The Highest Power of them all!

Toni Wilson
Queen of Charisma

 “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.”

Toni’s favorite thing about working at LifeSmiles is the beautiful scenery. When patients are having anxiety about their dental appointments, she creates a fearless atmosphere with her charisma and warmth. She is passionate about helping every patient achieve their dental health goals. She says she truly loves being part of a team where she can grow professionally and personally.

Outside the office: Toni loves spending time with her husband and their sons. She also likes to show off her green thumb with her work in her garden.

Bucket list item:
Travel around the world and learn about other cultures and regions.

Your hero: Harriet Tubman because she was passionate and a fearless leader unafraid of any of life’s challenges.

Mike Mireles
Elite Care and Education Specialist

Smiling is contagious

Mike began his career at LifeSmiles seeking an opportunity to expand his skillset and advance his career. Today he works at Dr. Michmore’s side through dental procedures and surgeries. He loves working at LifeSmiles because the entire team is continually learning and keeping up to date with the newest advancements in dentistry.

Outside the office: Mike enjoys barbecuing on his patio, traveling, and spending time with his family. He’s a dog dad of two: Tati and Tito.

Bucket list item:
To visit Thailand and Dubai and to try skydiving!

Your hero: Mike looks up to his parents and is forever grateful for the life lesson they taught him; respect, manners, strength, and to be a go-getter. He continues to carry these things with him with everything he does.

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Sandra Smith

Sandra is 44 years old and is a star athlete for the Special Olympics. At LifeSmiles, Sandra stocks patient rooms and the coffee bar. She does all kinds of special projects like decorating for holidays and preparing awesome gifts for our patients.

Sandra loves being around all her friends and is proud to wear a LifeSmiles shirt, jacket, and name badge. You’ll always find her smiling and helping make our patients smile too.

Outside the Office: Sandra likes to go fishing with her family, swim, go to dances, and walk the mall with her friends. She is very active in the Special Olympics and won second place in the state volleyball tournament (go, Sandra!) in 2020. She sings in her church choir and attends international performances with them.

Spirit Animal: Butterfly. She likes them because they are pretty.

Andie Willis
Director of Details

Andie is married with one son, Logan and now lives in The Woodlands. She grew up in Sugar Land and has followed in her mother’s footsteps – she has been in dentistry for over 35 years. Andie actually started out working in the office with her mom and learned many things from the way she worked.

Andie has been a Lead Dental Assistant for most of her career. She has worked for many specialists including oral surgeons and periodontists. She has extensive training in all facets of dentistry but especially enjoys the surgical and cosmetic side. As a science nerd, dentistry fascinates Andie and gives her a sense of accomplishment.

At LifeSmiles, she is our “Director of Details”. Andie is known for being a perfectionist because she likes to gather as much information as possible and go the extra mile to match Dr. Mitchmore’s high standards. She truly loves being part of our dedicated team of professionals who go above and beyond for our amazing patients.

Outside of the Office: Andie is addicted to Lagree fitness and loves to go off-shore fishing.

Your Hero: Her Mom. She is the most selfless person Andie knows.

John Copous
Chief Enthusiasm Officer

John became a new patient of LifeSmiles in 2008. He likes to tell people he was not allowed to leave. John worked down the street for 14 years before joining the team. He has a passion for meeting new people and extending genuine hospitality.

Often the first person people meet on the phone and when they walk in the door, you can count on John for a warm welcoming smile. You can even ‘hear’ it over the phone. He says, “I believe everyone deserves the red carpet treatment and love seeing other people smile.”

John hears stories every day how someone’s smile is holding them back. He can barely contain his excitement when shouting the praises of Dr. Mitchmore and the entire team. He shares passionate stories of how the transformations people have received at LifeSmiles, changed their lives.

Outside the Office: John loves being outside. He enjoys sharing a beach house with friends and family. He loves entertaining, throwing a party and cooking at home. He can start a conversation with anyone, anywhere. He’s an amateur stand-up comic.

Bucket List Item: To live in a foreign country for one year, somewhere near the beach. Take some time to write an epic love novel loosely based on my large Italian family.

Your Hero: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. While fictional, the character incorporates admirable qualities from real life people. She believes in the goodness of everyone, keeps on going and moves forward despite any obstacle. She is able to find humor in other people’s quirks, accepts them and makes sense of it all. Plus, she’s a little outrageous too.