What Does the Dentist Look for in Oral Cancer Screenings?

What Does the Dentist Look for in Oral Cancer Screenings?

Jun 27, 2023

Oral or mouth cancer is a potentially life-threatening condition that causes affects millions and causes thousands of deaths yearly. When detected early, oral cancer can be treated and reversed. However, oral cancer can lead to long-term tissue damage and even death when caught during its late stages. In this article, let’s learn more about oral cancer, the importance of oral cancer screenings, and what to expect during the screening.

What is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer refers to the cancer that develops in the mouth or throat. It can affect any part of the oral cavity, including the throat, lips, tongue, gums, palate, and inner cheeks. Mouth cancer develops when cells in the mouth change or mutate in their DNA. The mutated cells continue to grow and multiply while the healthy cells die. This accumulation of abnormal mouth cancer can develop into a tumor and spread to other areas of the mouth, including the neck and head.

While it’s not clear what causes mutations in cells that develop into mouth cancer, certain factors can increase your risk of mouth cancer, including:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Tobacco products like cigars, pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco
  • Weakened immune system
  • Genetics
  • Excessive sun exposure (lip cancer)
  • Sexually transmitted virus (HPV)
  • Poor nutrition

Why is Oral Cancer Screening Necessary?

Oral cancer screening is an oral examination of the mouth, neck, and throat to check for early signs of oral cancer. In its early stages, oral cancer may not show any significant symptoms and thus can grow without detection. Oral cancer can be difficult, painful, and expensive to treat or manage when caught at late stages. Routine oral cancer screenings allow for early diagnosis of oral cancer when there’s a better chance of successful and faster treatment. Visit our office for an oral cancer test in Sharon, MA.

What Does the Dentist Look for in Oral Cancer Screenings?

During an oral cancer screening, the dentist looks for early signs of cancer, such as:

  • Lesions or sores that don’t heal. The dentist will look for abnormal sores or lesions in the mouth that don’t heal, normally within two weeks.
  • Bumps and lumps. The dentist also checks for abnormal lumps or bumps in the mouth, throat, or neck. These can indicate that the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Tissue discoloration. Oral cancer can cause tissue discoloration in the mouth or throat. The tissues may turn red, white, or both.
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing. Oral cancer can cause speech problems and compromise your ability to swallow normally. Notify the dentist if you’ve experienced these symptoms before.
  • Numbness or tingling in the lips and mouth. The dentist may ask if you’ve experienced tingling or numbness in the mouth or lips.
  • Pain or discomfort in the throat or mouth. The dentist can touch different parts of the mouth, throat, or neck to check for oral pain or discomfort.

Other signs that can indicate oral cancer include:

  • Persistent bad breath
  • Changes in how teeth or dentures fit together
  • Bleeding in the throat or mouth
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swelling in the mouth or throat

If the dentist detects any abnormalities during the screening, they can recommend further tests and biopsy for further evaluation and treatment. It’s important to note that not all abnormalities indicate oral cancer. Some abnormalities or lumps may be non-cancerous or pre-cancerous.

How Often to Have an Oral Cancer Screening

The American Cancer Society recommends having routine oral cancer screening at least once yearly. However, individuals with a higher risk of oral cancer, such as heavy drinkers and smokers, may need more frequent screenings. Consult your dentist about how frequently you can have oral cancer screening.

Tips for Preventing Oral Cancer

While not all cases of oral cancer can be prevented, below are several ways to reduce the risk of developing oral cancer:

  • Avoid tobacco products
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure
  • Maintain excellent oral hygiene
  • Get a vaccination for HPV

Get Oral Cancer Screenings in Sharon, MA

For more information about oral cancer screening, contact Sharon Dental Group.

Our dental office in Sharon, MA also welcome patients from the below given nearby areas:

  • Canton
  • Walpole
  • Mansfield
  • Stoughton
  • Easton
  • Foxborough
  • Norwood
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