What a Dentist Checks for During an Oral Cancer Screening

What a Dentist Checks for During an Oral Cancer Screening

January 1, 2023

What Is Oral Cancer Screening?

It is a dental procedure that examines your oral cavity for any signs of precancerous cells. Oral Cancer Screening in Old Saybrook, CT, does not treat oral cancer, nor is it a diagnostic test to confirm that you have the disease. Instead, it comprises a test that allows a dentist to detect any anomalies that could point to oral cancer. Therefore, after oral cancer screening, you would need other tests like biopsies for a prognosis so you can begin treatment.

What Does Oral Cancer Screening Entail?

Screenings for mouth cancer involve quick tests accounting for visual exams, palpations, and oral screening dyes and lights. During visual exams, the dentist works to identify any visible signs of oral cancer. Palpation entails using a gloved finger to feel different surfaces of your mouth. Any tenderness, lumpiness, or other forms of anomaly will grab the dentist’s attention. Screening dyes and lights help complement the visual exam. They cause the precancerous cells to stand out from the healthy ones when they absorb the dye and are hit by the light.

What Will the Dentist Be Checking During the Screening?

Your dentist will be keen to detect any anomalies that can point to oral cancer. Therefore, the dentist will be keen to check various oral features. The common areas of concern are:
  1. Tongue
  2. Gums
  3. Cheeks
  4. Jaw joints and your bite
  5. Throat and neck
  6. Lymph nodes
Some of the symptoms your dentist will be looking for are:
  1. White or red velvety patches in your mouth – usually on the soft tissues, like gums, or tongue, the mouth lining
  2. Tumors, lumps, and bumps
  3. Mouth sores that do not heal
  4. Loose teeth
  5. Dental pain - spreads to other body parts like the neck.
  6. Pain while swallowing, yawning, or chewing.
  7. Unexplained bleeding in the mouth

When Do You Need Oral Cancer Screening?

Mouth cancer screening is generally a preventive dental measure that can benefit anyone. Whatever your age or gender, you can visit the nearest dental clinic for oral cancer screening. However, you may not need regular screening if you are not at a high risk of oral cancer. Since many dental experts are yet to agree on the need for oral cancer screening for all patients, consider the following risk factors as pointers that you need oral cancer screening:
  1. A previous diagnosis of oral cancer – even though you are in remission, do not downplay oral cancer screening. Some patients have cancer that comes back into their mouths after a previous diagnosis.
  2. Heavy alcohol drinking
  3. Smoking – smokers are about 50% more likely to have oral cancer than non-smokers. In fact, dental experts say that smoking is the leading cause of oral cancer. Therefore, oral cancer screening will be beneficial if you cannot quit smoking.
  4. A family history of oral cancer
  5. Oral sex – increases your risk of human papillomavirus (HPV), which is one of the risk factors for oral cancer.

How Frequently Should You Get Screened for Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer screenings are not tests you should get so frequently. The frequency should be relative to individual needs. Some people need screenings more frequently than others. Dentists recommend that adults over 20 years get screened for mouth cancer every three years. If you are over 40 years, have annual screenings. However, you may need more frequent tests if you are at a high risk of oral cancer. Still, do not feel pressured to keep up with a routine for oral cancer screening. Most precancerous cells are detectable early during routine dental visits. Therefore, ensure you are visiting your dentist routinely for dental exams and cleanings.

Can You Cure Oral Cancer?

Usually, dental experts can cure oral cancer if they detect and treat it at an early stage. Therefore, you cannot downplay the benefits of oral cancer screening, even though it does not treat the disease. It may be the best chance you have for catching signs of cancer early so you can start treatment and prevent it from progressing into a life-threatening condition.