The Importance of Oral Cancer Screenings

There’s more to oral health than just a clean set of teeth and a bright smile. Your oral health care provider also checks for many other things in your teeth, mouth, and gums that affect both your oral health and your overall well being. At every stage of life, oral health issues can come up and complicate things. These unfortunately include oral cancers, which can occur at any age and in otherwise healthy people. It’s important to have an oral cancer screening as part of your regular dental care, and it’s likewise important to know what goes into such a screening. Let’s talk about both here.

Signs of Oral Cancer

First off, everyone should know the signs of oral cancers and should contact their oral health care provider immediately if they notice similar symptoms. According to the American Dental Association, the signs and symptoms of oral cancer include the following:

  • A sore or irritation that doesn’t go away
  • Red or white patches
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth

Additional symptoms occasionally include the feeling that something is caught in your throat, a lump in your throat, or loss of voice/difficulty speaking. If any of these symptoms occur or persist, your dentist or oral health care provider may want to conduct an oral cancer screening.

What Happens During a Screening?

An oral cancer screening will most likely happen in a medical provider’s office. They’ll ask the patient to remove all dental prosthesis–dentures and bridges–before the exam. The first stage of the exam will be a visual inspection of the oral cavity, jaw, and neck. They’ll look for any abnormalities or signs that something might be wrong, including the symptoms we listed above. The next stage of the exam will be physical, and the health care provider will feel around the potentially affected areas to check for any swelling or lumps that might indicate cancer is forming.

Based on those results, the health care provider may elect to do a further exam. This may involve imaging or x rays to examine the potentially affected sight, or they may choose to take a tissue sample for testing. These tests can provide further information that will confirm the presence or absence of oral cancer. When those results come in, the health care provider will review them and then suggest the next course of action.

What Happens Next?

Depending on the results of the exam, your health care provider may refer the patient to a specialist for further treatment. Oral cancers vary in severity, so each patient is different and it is difficult to speculate about what will happen. It’s important however that you communicate clearly with your oral health care provider, who will talk to you about risk factors, treatment, and how to best proceed. Oral cancer screenings are a critical part of the process; when caught early many oral cancers are fairly easy to treat.

If you have concerns about oral cancer, would like a screening, or are just in need of a routine exam, please contact us today.