Failure to Diagnose Mouth and Tongue Cancer

Atlanta Failure to Diagnose Cancer Dental Malpractice Attorney


Mouth and tongue cancer is a rare form of cancer that has a high death rate and which is on the rise. Because of this, it is important that general dentists properly screen their patients for:

  • Painful areas in the mouth and throat or on the lips
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Lesions
  • White colored tissues
  • Redness
  • Sores and Canker sores on the lips
  • Numbness in the tongue, lips and gums
  • A feeling that something is caught in your throat
  • A white or red patch in the mouth or on the back of the throat
  • Unexplained Pain in the jaw or ears
  • Difficulty in moving the jaw, tongue or lips
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty talking as normal
  • Swelling of the jaw, lips or tongue

More than 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer in the United States each year. A high percentage of these cases are initially missed by dentists during the semiannual regular dental examination which makes failure to diagnose mouth and tongue cancer (which along with throat cancer comprise almost all of the oral cancer cases) more common than it should be. Since dentists sometimes fail to catch the early signs and symptoms of oral cancer, many of these cases result in horrible disfigurement and even death. In some cases, the failure to diagnose oral cancer may rise to the level of dental malpractice that warrant the pursuit of a dental malpractice claim against the dentist that missed the diagnosis.


Tobacco and alcohol use are the main causes of oral cancers. Most cases of oral cancer are linked to cigarette smoking, heavy alcohol use, or the use of both tobacco and alcohol together. Using tobacco plus alcohol poses a much greater risk than using either substance alone.This apparently has an exponential negative affect on your health in regards to the risks of contracting oral cancer. Those suffering from HPV infection or with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (specifically the HPV 16 type) has been linked to a subset of oral cancers. The risks of oral cancer also increases with age. Oral cancer most often occurs in people over the age of 40. Sun exposure also increases the risk of oral cancers such as cancer of the lip. A poor diet can also increase the risk of oral cancer. For instance, a diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods may play a role in oral cancer development. All of these increased risks should be taken into account by the treating dentist.

Early Detection is Critical with Comprehensive Oral Exams

Whether the failure to diagnose oral cancer rises to actionable dental malpractice depends on several factors including whether the cancer progressed from an early stage to a late stage between the time of the missed diagnosis and the time the cancer ultimately was diagnosed. A dental malpractice claim is much stronger if the failure to diagnose the oral cancer causes a delay in treatment and earlier treatment more likely than not would have prevented the spread of the cancer and/or resulted in a better outcome. In fact, if that is not the case, there probably is no case.

Tests that Should be Performed by Dentists to Screen for Oral Cancer

The goal of oral cancer screening is to identify mouth cancer early, when there is a greater chance for a cure. Oral cancer screening is an examination performed by a dentist, usually during your routine 6-month check up to look for signs of cancer or pre-cancerous conditions in your mouth.

Most dentists perform an examination of your mouth during a routine dental visit to screen for oral cancer. Some dentists may use additional tests to aid in identifying areas of abnormal cells in your mouth. This is especially true of the life style factors discussed above that increase the risk of contracting oral cancer are present.

Failure to Diagnose Oral Cancer

The standard of care that applies to general dentistry requires that general dentists properly screen patients for oral cancer when dentists perform exams. If a general dentist has performed a number of oral examinations on a patient over a number of years on a consistent basis (i.e., every 6 months) and the patient develops advanced stage oral cancer while under the general dentist’s care and treatment, a thorough review of the dental and medical records would be warranted to better understand what role the general dentist may have played in allowing the cancer to spread without early detection.

Call Today for A Free Case Consultation

It is important to understand that each case is different and some types of oral cancer are very aggressive and may not be able to be detected in time, even with proper oral cancer examination by your general dentist.

If you would like a free no obligation dental oral cancer case evaluation, please call Robert J. Fleming directly at (404) 525-5150. We are here to help.

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