While you and your dentist work closely together to establish and maintain optimal oral hygiene and health, the fact remains that non-optimal oral health issues can still sometimes arise. Catching these issues early on can allow you to address and resolve them before they have a chance to exacerbate and create a host of new problems. This is certainly true when you are dealing with oral cancer, which is much more easily handled early on. Your dentist will therefore want to perform an oral cancer screening every six months when you come in for your examination and cleaning. This will allow him to detect any oral cancer or precancerous conditions so that the cancer can be removed where necessary and cured where possible.
Though regular oral cancer screenings are a wise idea for all patients, your dentist will be even more insistent on performing an oral cancer screening if you have a high risk of developing oral cancer. Some of the risk factors that contribute to a higher instance of oral cancer include:
- Tobacco use. This includes the use of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff and any other form of tobacco use.
- Heavy alcohol use. Any heavy alcohol use can increase one’s risk of oral cancer, especially if one is consuming hard liquor on a frequent basis.
- Prior oral cancer issues. Once an individual has experienced oral cancer, their likelihood of experiencing it again increases.
- Significant sun exposure. While minimal sun exposure on a daily basis can be beneficial to one’s health, significant sun exposure on a regular basis can increase the risk of cancer, including lip cancer.
In the interests of reducing your risk of developing oral cancer, your dentist will encourage you to abandon habits that are not beneficial to your oral hygiene and health and establish habits that are beneficial to your oral hygiene and health.
What to Expect
Your dentist will perform a visual examination of your face, neck, lips, inside the nose and in your oral cavity–checking your gums, inner cheeks, roof of the mouth, tonsils, throat and under your tongue with a light and mirror. He is looking for any asymmetries, swellings, bumps, ulcerations, patches of color, sores or other abnormalities in these areas that would indicate a problem with your oral hygiene and health. Then, with his gloved fingers, your dentist will gently feel your head, cheeks, jaw, under the chin and over the various tissues in your mouth, checking for lumps, masses or other abnormalities. He will ask you to take out any dental hardware that is removable, such as partial or complete dentures. If your dentist determines that it is wise or necessary to check more thoroughly, he may rinse your mouth with a special blue dye that will be soaked up by any abnormal cells in your mouth.
Oral cancer screenings are not sufficient on their own to return a diagnosis, but they can indicate whether further testing is advisable or necessary. For example, a patient may have sores in their mouth, but a visual examination will not be able to determine whether they are cancerous or not (many mouth sores are not cancerous). If your dentist isn’t certain about the origin of a mouth sore, he will recommend further testing.
Should your dentist determine that there are signs of cancerous or precancerous conditions, he will recommend a follow-up visit a few weeks later so that he can re-examine your mouth and determine whether the conditions are still present or have changed. This is the point at which he may recommend a biopsy or referral to an oral cancer specialist for diagnosis and treatment.
Oral cancer screenings are meant to be precautionary, and should not be cause for worry or concern. If you have questions about oral cancer screenings, contact Today’s Dental now.