Did you know that approximately 50,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year? Cancer can be a scary word, but we know that the best way to catch it is in its early stages when it comes to cancer. This means that we need to be routinely checking our patients for oral cancer as dental professionals. Oral cancer screenings have become an essential part of our routine patient examinations!
An oral cancer screening is a type of examination that is performed by a dentist in which they look for cancerous or precancerous conditions in your mouth. It’s best to catch oral cancer in its earliest stages, so it has the greatest success of being able to be treated.
What Should You Expect During A Cancer Screening?
The primary way to screen for oral cancer is by looking in the mouth for abnormalities and palpating or feeling for any lumps or bumps in the mouth.
Cancer screenings can vary, though as many different tools are available to aid in screening. At times an oral brush biopsy may be used. This brush removes cells for testing. This is usually a painless process. Sometimes a fluorescent light tool may be used to help identify suspicious oral tissues. A mouth rinse is also another type of screening in that it helps to identify suspicious areas in your tissue.
What Are Our Dentists Looking For?
Ideally, our dentist wants to find that all the tissue in your mouth, tongue, and throat area is healthy. Knowing that healthy tissue usually appears pink and feels uniform in texture allows a dentist to determine when something looks or feels abnormal. Your mouth is also naturally very symmetric, which means that what is on one side should also be found on the other side.
If our dentist notices tissue that looks and feels different than that which is considered normal, they will likely follow up their findings with more research and testing.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Oral Cancer?
Signs and symptoms of oral cancer can vary from person to person, and just because one of these signs or symptoms are experienced does not mean that a person has oral cancer. Noticing these signs and symptoms on a patient would likely lead to more testing until the cancer is ruled out.
Any of the following creates concern for our dentists as they are performing an oral cancer screening:
- Lumps or bumps in the tissue on one side of the mouth but not the other.
- Discoloration of tissue when compared to other tissue in the mouth.
- Red or white patches can be a reason for concern.
- Mouth sores and open oral wounds can also be reasons for concern.
A patient may notice these signs and symptoms in their mouth, which would also be a concern:
- Persistent mouth sores that do not heal.
- A lump or thickening of their cheek.
- There is a white or red patch on their gum tissue, tongue, tonsil, or mucosa.
- Persistent mouth pain.
Are There Ways To Prevent Oral Cancer?
Yes, there are many steps that you can take to reduce your risk of developing oral cancer!
- Quit smoking: Tobacco products have long been connected to oral cancer.
- Reduce sun exposure
- Use a lip balm with SPF
- Eat healthy with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Screen yourself by checking periodically for any lumps or discoloration
Your oral health is vital to us! Be sure to call us or get your questions answered at your next dental appointment! Do you have questions about oral cancer screenings?