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Well oral cancer and pre-cancerous lesions are a textbook long in length so can we narrow this question more specifically for what you are looking for? Like an area of the mouth you are concerned with for instance? Or a certain type of cancer you may have heard about that is specific to your inquiry?
Well you can't catch oral cancer. There are many factors, specifically risk factors that can increase your possibility of getting oral cancer. Tobacco use (smoke and smokeless), sun exposure, drug use, genetics, viral precursors, sexually transmitted diseases, are some main factors that can increase risk. It can really depend on what the lesions (patches) look like. Some are white, some are red, some are red with white borders, others are purplish or melanotic in color. They can look like a sore, ulcer, wart, and sometimes just a flat tissue colored area. It's really very broad because there are soo many types of oral cancers. There are also many things that are like this in the mouth that aren't cancer as well (bacterial, viral, fungal, or even just variations of normal tissue). They can happen on gum tissue, roof of mouth, back of throat by tonsils, floor of mouth, lips, and a main spot that dentists check is the tongue. Oral cancer is fairly rare in that in the states there are about 40,000 cases annually and its slightly more common with men than women. Just let me know from here what you may be looking for.
Hang tight as I gather resources.
Gingival/ gum cancer is more rare than other types of oral cancers. Here is an article that has some good pictures. As you will notice most cancers that happen on gums are of squamous cell origin.
There are tons of red or white lesions however on the gums that aren't cancerous. Gums are have a large blood supply and with that they undergo inflammation more easily and with that can form many types of bumps/protrusions that aren't cancerous of origin, they are bacterial much of the time.
Here is another resource that has some pictures.
Typically when dealing with oral cancers, symptoms that people notice are sores that don't heal on their own or grow larger. Some people will have pain in teeth or jaws. Or they may notice loosening of teeth.
Oral cancer is typically more diagnosable in older individuals (55+). However, with tobacco or heavy alcohol users this can be seen at younger ages as well.
For many people they are asymptomatic and have no pain, that's why dentists advocate for 6 month check-ups and screen the mouth for pre-cancerous or suspicious lesions during these check-ups.
No bacteria don't cause cancer if that's what you mean. The patches are just signs of the cancer destroying that portion of tissue (lesion as dentists call it). There are viruses that can increase risk factors for getting cancer, but cancer is really just your own cells becoming damaged and forming damage or out-of-control and hence destructive cells.
Is there an area of your mouth you want me to look at (submit a picture)?
Yep, bacteria really doesn't have anything to do with oral cancer. Its more like chronic irritants like tobacco use damages the cells until they can't regenerate properly because the DNA of the cell was damaged. Sun exposure too is very common, I know it doesn't seem like it could affect the gums but it certainly can the lips. Again, gum cancer is fairly rare but as you can think about it tobacco (known carcinogen) can cause those gum tissues to become cancerous.
Oral Cancer can have a lot of appearances. Sometimes it will appear as red, white, or red and white patches in the mouth and sometimes an ulcer. Any sore in the mouth that lasts longer than 2 weeks is referred to an oral surgeon in my office. Here is a link with some sore that are precancerous and cancerous http://www.nyuoralcancer.org/oral_cancer/oral_precancer.html. The only well to tell the difference between the two is with a biopsy. Non painful lymph node swelling or facial pain that is not tooth related are sometimes symptoms as well. There are all kinds of oral cancer involving salivary glands and other tissues. Sometimes cancer will spread to the mouth (usually lower jaw bone) from other areas of the body.
Do you have an area of your mouth you are concerned about? You can send a pic and give me a history of it's appearance and/or other symptoms if you want.
This link has them http://www.nyuoralcancer.org/oral_cancer/oral_precancer.html . Already sent this before. First pic.
I just copied and pasted the link from my second comment and it worked. Make sure it doesn't have a period on the end before you hit enter.
Is that a pic of you? That looks like it could be related to a gum infection instead of cancer but it could be either. I would explore both options. The person in that pic has decay on the smaller tooth (premolar) and possibly on gumline of the molar. That can produce localized gum infections that can look bad. I might address the decay and do a good cleaning of the area and follow up to see if it goes away.
I just searched for a couple minutes and can't find one. The only difference would be that an african american might have darker pigment to their gum tissue. Do the white spots you have wipe off when rubbed with a dry wash cloth or paper towel?
They vary but yes. They usually aren't so raised but can be and the fact that it is swollen between the teeth makes me think that it could be a gum infection also.
If the white patches wipe off it could be a fungal infection (called thrush, or candidiasis). That is more prevalent when someone has been on an antibiotic recently or has a compromised immune system such as AIDS or if taking a steroid.
Any number of bacteria. Only going to go away if the teeth are cleaned. You can send me a pic of your situation.
Please rate my response so I can close the question