How Can Your Dentist Help You to Spot Oral Cancer?

How Can Your Dentist Help You to Spot Oral Cancer?

Mar 03, 2020

During routine dental examinations, dentists are also conducting oral cancer screening looking for signs of cancer or precancerous lesions in the mouth. The goal of the screening is to identify oral cancer early when the chances of a cure are greater.

Most dentists are performing an examination of your mouth during a routine dental visit but it is not limited to looking for plaque and tartar because they also screen for oral cancer. Some dentists may also use additional tests to help in identifying areas of abnormal cells in the mouth.

There is a disagreement among medical organizations about whether healthy people without any risk factors for mouth cancer need oral cancer screening. However, you may decide along with your dentist that an oral exam or special test may be right for you after ascertaining the risk factors.

Why Are Dentists Conducting Oral Cancer Screening?

The goal of the screening is to detect oral cancer or precancerous lesions that may lead to mouth cancer in the early stages when it is easier to remove and the potential of a successful cure is higher. Unfortunately, as no studies have proved that the screening can save lives many organizations are not agreeing about the benefits of oral cancer screening. Some are recommending them while others are hiding behind the fact that no evidence is available to make such recommendations.

If you are at a high risk of oral cancer you are likely to benefit from the screening despite no studies proving it. The factors that can contribute to your risk of oral cancer include the following:

  • Excessive consumption of alcohol.
  • Use of tobacco in any form.
  • Earlier diagnosis of oral cancer.
  • Exposure to the sun constantly which can increase the risks of lip cancer.

More people have been diagnosed with mouth and throat cancers over the past few years but the reasons aren’t clear until this time. An increasing number of these cancers are associated with STDs. If you are concerned about the risks of oral cancer it is suggested that you discuss with your doctor to reduce your risk and the type of screening test that will be suitable for you.

The Risks of Oral Cancer

Oral cancer screening has certain limitations because many people have sores in their mouths but most are noncancerous. The screening cannot determine the difference between cancerous and noncancerous sores. You may need to undergo further testing if your dentist identifies an unusual sore. The screening cannot detect all types of mouth cancers and it has been proven that the screening cannot save lives.

How to Prepare for the Screening

No special preparation is required for oral cancer screening which will be performed during a routine dental visit.

What Can Be Expected from the Screening

During the screening, your dentist will be looking over the inside of your mouth to identify red or white patches or mouth sores. The dentist will also feel for the tissues in your mouth looking for lumps or other abnormalities using gloved hands. The throat and neck will also be checked for lumps.

Some dentists are using additional tests besides the oral exam to screen for oral cancer. It is not clear whether these tests are offering any additional benefits over the oral exam. The specialists may include:

  • Oral cancer screening dye which will require you to ensure mouth with a special blue dye before the exam. It causes abnormal cells in your mouth to take up the dye and appear blue.
  • Oral cancer screening light. The dentist may shine a light in your mouth during the exam. The light will make the healthy tissues appear dark while the abnormal tissues will appear white.

The Results

If any signs of mouth cancer or precancerous lesions are detected by your dentist he or she may recommend a follow-up visit in a few weeks to determine if the abnormal area is still present and note whether it has changed or grown over time. A biopsy procedure may also be recommended to remove a sample of the cells for a laboratory to determine whether cancerous cells are present. The dentist may perform the biopsy or refer you to a doctor who specializes in diagnosing these conditions and oral cancer treatment.

Just because not enough evidence is available to prove that oral cancer screening may not be a procedure needed by everyone it in no way indicates that you should shy away from the screening when your dentist is performing it during a routine dental visit. You must consider it as an additional benefit that could possibly save you from a serious problem because the screening would allow you to obtain oral cancer treatment at an early stage rather than wait for it to require intensive treatment.


Translate »