What Is An Oral Cancer Screening?
Oral cancer screenings are an important part of any dental exam. The goal of an oral cancer screening is to find any signs of cancer as early as possible. Cancer is important to catch early because the sooner you start treatment, the better your prognosis will look. Screenings allow for your dentist to diagnose any type of cancerous lesions or lumps.
The word cancer can send you into high alert, so knowing what to expect is the first step in easing any anxiety and paying attention to your body is very important for helping you know when something is a little off. This article will answer some of those immediate questions and help you be prepared for when you go into your next dental appointment.
What are the risk factors for oral cancer?
- Tobacco use, of any kind, is one of the biggest risk factors. This includes cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and snuff/chewing tobacco.
- Heavy alcohol use.
- Sun exposure.
- Poor oral hygiene.
- HPV (human papillomavirus) is thought to cause 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the United States.
What are the symptoms or signs of oral cancer?
- A lump or tissue growth inside the mouth.
- White or red patches on the lips or inside the mouth.
- Mouth or ear pain.
- Difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing.
- Loose teeth.
- Sores on the lip or mouth that do not heal.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Jaw pain.
Remember that some of these symptoms can mimic other, less intense issues, so if you are experiencing them it is best to visit the dentist to make sure you get a proper diagnosis. These symptoms don’t always spell out cancer, as jaw pain can also be indicative of the need for a tooth pull or cavity fill. It’s always best to speak with your dentist right away if you start experiencing any of the above symptoms.
What happens during an oral cancer screening?
An oral cancer screening is a routine exam done during one of your regular dental appointments. It is a quick, non-invasive procedure where your dentist does a visual examination of the tissue in and around your mouth. With a tongue depressor and gloved hands, your dentist will check for any sores, grows or patches that could be an issue. Your dentist will also feel for any unusual lumps underneath your skin.
The areas your dentist will check are:
- Face: Your dentist will check for swelling, pigmentation, ulcerated or raised areas of the skin. The bones of the face will be checked as well as the soft tissue.
- Eyes: Any swelling or fluid drainage will be looked for in the eyes.
- Ears and nose: Paranasal and external nose will be looked at. The ear will also be looked at since skin cancer can be seen on the outside of the ear. Your dentist may even check your hearing for you.
- Lips: Outer lip and inner lip/gum will be examined for any tissue growth, discoloration or pain.
- Neck and Thyroid: These will be checked for swelling, tissue growth and other symptoms.
If your dentist finds anything of concern, they will take extra steps to determine if further examination or treatment is necessary. They may ask you to rinse out your mouth with a special dye rinse that will highlight abnormal cells and turn them blue. There is also a specialized excitation light they can use that highlights abnormal cells.
After that, if needed, a tissue biopsy may be ordered. A biopsy is a procedure where the doctor takes a tissue sample for more testing. There are two types of biopsies: an incisional biopsy where the doctor will excise a small amount of tissue for testing, and fine needle aspiration where your dentist will use a thin needle to draw out fluid from the area.
With both, a local anesthetic is used to numb any pain associated with the biopsy and to keep you comfortable throughout. Depending on the urgency and area, your dentist may do the biopsy themselves or send you to a specialist.
Knowing what to look out for when it comes to oral cancer and the symptoms that accompany them are the first step keeping your oral health on track. Make sure to see your dentist regularly, as oral screenings are the best way to check in and keep yourself healthy.
Is it time for your next oral cancer screening? Do you want compassionate and concise dental care?
At Carrie Muzny DDS, not only do we care about your smile, we also care about your overall wellness. Our dental office in The Woodlands, Texas includes oral cancer screenings with your regular exam. Like many kinds of cancer, oral cancer can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early. We take a thorough and proactive approach to your dental care by including an oral cancer screening with every regular exam.
When was the last time you visited the dentist for a regular check-up? If it has been over 6 months, it’s time for your regular exam (which includes an oral cancer screening). Set up an appointment today and let’s keep your smile healthy and bright for years to come!