While most people are aware of the many different types of cancer that affect people throughout the world, you may not know much about oral cancer and how it begins. During its initial stages, oral cancer appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that doesn’t go away. Like all other forms of cancer, oral cancer, which includes cancer on the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, and hard palate, can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early.

What is an Oral Cancer Screening?

oral cancer screeningTypically part of a routine dental exam, an oral cancer screening is an examination performed by a dentist or doctor to look for signs of cancer in your mouth. Since early detection is vitally important for successful treatment, oral cancer screenings are another reason why it’s important to see your dentist regularly. Some dentists may use additional tests to aid in identifying areas of abnormal cells in your mouth.

During an oral cancer screening exam, your dentist will look over the inside of your mouth to check for red or white patches or mouth sores. The dentist also feels the tissues inside your mouth to check for lumps or other abnormalities. If you wear complete or partial dentures that are removable, you will be asked to remove them beforehand. In addition to the basic oral exam, the dentist may use special tests, such as:

  • Rinsing your mouth with a blue dye that is absorbed by abnormal cells, making them easier to detect.
  • Shining a light in your mouth that makes healthy tissue appear dark and makes abnormal tissue appear white.

If any signs of mouth cancer or precancerous conditions are present, the dentist will recommend a follow-up visit to monitor abnormal cells or possibly a biopsy procedure, in which a sample of the cells are sent for testing to detect any cancerous cells.

Dental Visits for your Oral Health

The American Cancer Society states that about 35,000 people are diagnosed with some form of oral cancer each year. As with any cancer, early detection dramatically increases the survival rate of these conditions, and in addition to other oral health concerns, regular visits to the dentist can ensure that any abnormalities are caught early. If you’re due for a checkup, or if you notice any open sores, white or reddish patches that last for more than two weeks, make an appointment right away for a screening.