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Oral Cancer Screening

     Preventative dental services include things like x-rays, fluoride treatments, sealants, and dental prophylaxis (cleanings). Even though patients may only get these treatments once or twice a year, they are incredibly helpful at preventing cavities, abscesses, and other oral diseases.

     However, one preventative service you may not be taking advantage of is oral cancer screenings. Take a look at why this preventative service is valuable, what it entails, and who could benefit the most from it.


Why Should You Take Advantage of These Screenings?

Like other cancers, it's easier to treat oral cancer if it's caught in the early stages. In fact, the five-year overall survival rate in stage 1 and 2 cancers of this type is usually 70 to 90 percent. However, these percentages decrease if cancer is allowed to grow.

In earlier stages, cancer cells haven't spread to lymph nodes or the rest of the body, so it's easier to treat. If you have cancer screenings done at your regular cleaning appointments, you'll have a better chance of successfully catching and treating the issue.

Who is at risk?

Who's at Risk for Oral Cancer?

You should ask your dentist about the frequency of screenings, as some people are more at risk for the cancer than others. Some risk factors include:

  • A history of sun exposure — especially if you are fair skinned

  • Older age

  • Poor oral hygiene

  • A previous HPV diagnosis

  • Poor nutrition

  • Tobacco use of any kind

  • Marijuana use

  • A weak immune system


What are the Signs and Symptoms

Besides the risk factors, you should be aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer. Some of these include:

  • Thickened tissue or lumps inside the mouth

  • A sore throat or feeling like you need to clear your throat continually

  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing

  • Halitosis

  • White or red patches on your lips or inside your mouth

  • Weight loss

  • Jaw pain

As you can see, since some of these symptoms can mimic other issues, it's best to visit a dentist to get a correct diagnosis and rule out cancer. For instance, jaw pain doesn't necessarily indicate oral cancer; it could be indicative of bruxism or a deep cavity.


What Is an Oral Cancer Screening Like?

An oral cancer screening is a quick, non-invasive procedure. With gloved hands and a tongue depressor, your dentist will examine inside your mouth and under your tongue to check for any patches or sores. Your dentist will also feel for any lumps underneath the skin that may not be apparent to the naked eye.

Something Suspicious?

What if Your Dentist Finds Something Suspicious?

If your dentist does catch something in the initial screening, then he or she may take further steps for a diagnosis. Your doctor can swab an area of tissue with a brush to remove cells for testing; although this method doesn't detect all oral cancers.

He or she may have you rinse out your mouth with a specialized mouth-rinse that contains a dye; this dye will adhere to abnormal cells and turn blue if they're present.

Your dentist may opt to send you to a specialist — like an oral and maxillofacial surgeon for — for a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure where the doctor takes a tissue sample for further testing. There's nothing to be afraid of during this procedure, as the dental specialist will use local anesthetic. Here are two biopsy methods he or she might use:

  • Incisional biopsies, where the dental specialist will excise a small portion of tissue for testing. This biopsy may require stitches.

  • Fine-needle aspiration (FNA), where your doctor will use a thin needle to draw fluid out — like if you have a lump on the inside of your cheek.

While you wait for biopsy results, your dentist may have you come in a couple of weeks to see if the suspicious area has grown, changed color, or changed shape over time. Contact our office for more information about oral cancer screenings

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