Oral cancer screening is an office evaluation that includes a visual and “hands-on” examination of the mouth to look for signs of oral cancer, including whitish or discolored patches or rough spots. During the screening, the dentist will feel the soft tissues of the mouth as well as visually examining them, and the face and neck will also be evaluated for signs of swelling. When an area of abnormal tissue is discovered, a small sample of cells or tissue may be removed for examination under a microscope. Cells may be removed using a special brush or a large section of tissue may be removed using very small incisions. Other signs of oral cancer that need to be reported to the dentist include persistent hoarseness and sore throat, pain or restricted movement in the jaw, teeth that have shifted and dentures or bridges that no longer fit properly.
Most patients should be screened at least every two years, but patients with risk factors for oral cancer may need to be screened more often. During the initial screening, the dentist will determine how frequently screening should occur.
Oral cancer has been linked with tobacco use and excessive consumption of alcohol, so eliminating these two habits is very important for reducing the risks of contracting oral cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV) has also been associated with an increased risk for oral cancer, and patients who have not been vaccinated against HPV should be tested to see if they have the virus, which often can cause few or no noticeable symptoms until a flare-up occurs. In addition to having routine professional oral cancer screenings, patients should also perform at-home assessments by checking for rough spots and areas of discoloration that persist for more than a week or so. If any abnormal areas are identified, it’s important to call the office immediately to schedule an evaluation.
No, if oral cancer is discovered, we can refer patients to an oncologist, a doctor who specializes in the treatment of cancer in all its stages.
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