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Oral Cancer Exam

Importance of Oral Cancer Screening

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2023, about 54,540 people in the United States will be diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer. These cancers affect the tongue, tonsils, gums, floor of the mouth, and other parts of the mouth and throat. Sadly, more than 7,000 of these cases will result in the patient’s death. However, there is good news: oral cancer can be easily detected with an annual oral cancer exam, and effectively treated if caught early.

Oral cancer is a disease process that starts with no symptoms, which makes it hard to notice the usual signs of cancer. This is why the dentist’s oral cancer exams are very important. The most common type of oral cancer is the squamous cell carcinoma, which is a malignant cancer that usually starts in the lip and mouth tissues. Oral cancers can occur in many different places in the mouth and face area, such as:

• Lips

• Mouth

• Tongue

• Salivary Glands

• Throat (oropharyngeal region)

• Gums

• Face


Reasons for Oral Cancer Examinations

Oral cancer exams are important because many oral cancers are related to behaviors that can be changed, such as smoking, tobacco use and drinking too much alcohol. Your dentist can help you learn how to quit smoking and make healthier choices. Oral cancer can be treated very effectively if it is found early. You should see a health professional as soon as possible if you notice any abnormal changes in your tongue, gums, mouth or surrounding area. During the oral cancer exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will examine the mouth and face area carefully for any signs of disease.

The dentist will check for these signs during a routine oral cancer exam:

Red patches and sores – These are red areas on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink areas that do not heal and sores that bleed easily and heal slowly. They can be signs of cancerous changes in the tissue.

Leukoplakia – This is a white or gray, slightly raised area that can appear anywhere in the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or it can become cancerous if not treated.

Lumps – Any soreness, lumps or thickening of the tissue in the throat or mouth can indicate a problem.

Oral cancer exams, diagnosis and treatment


The oral cancer exam is not painful at all. The dentist will look for anything abnormal and feel the face, glands and neck for any bumps. If the dentist finds any abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps, they will make a diagnosis and a treatment plan. If the first treatment does not work, a biopsy of the area will be done. The biopsy will include a clinical evaluation that will tell the exact stage and grade of the oral lesion.

Malignant types of cancers can spread to other parts of the mouth and face, causing more problems. The treatment will depend on the exact diagnosis, but it may include surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. The dentist and hygienist will check for changes and lesions in the mouth during regular check-ups, but a complete oral cancer screening should be done at least once a year.

If you have any questions or concerns about oral cancer, please contact our practice.

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