Dental tools.

What to Expect at Your Oral Cancer Screening

Medical institutions follow a variety of testing guidelines and screening requirements that have been established in order to ensure the early detection and treatment of a variety of cancers. Some of these guidelines include recommendations for routine cervical cancer screenings, breast cancer screenings, and colon cancer screenings. 

There is, however, no standard mouth cancer test because no such guidelines have been created to routinely screen patients for signs of oral cancer. As a result, many dentists have taken up the responsibility of oral cancer screening to improve the early detection of oral cancer and treatment outcomes for their patients. 

What Is Oral Cancer?

Oral cancer (also known as mouth cancer) refers to cancerous abnormalities that develop in any part of the oral cavity or mouth. Oral cancers include cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, gums, roof of the mouth, or floor of the mouth. 

Why Is It Important to Screen for Oral Cancer?

Like other types of cancer, oral cancer can be more successfully treated when it is detected early and before it has had a chance to grow and metastasize, spreading to other parts of a person's body. So, the purpose of oral cancer screening is to detect signs of oral cancer or precancerous lesions in the oral cavity while they can be easily removed and treated. 

Who Is at Risk for Oral Cancer?

Anyone can develop oral cancer, but certain factors can put individuals at higher risk.

These oral cancer risk factors include:

  • Tobacco use of any kind
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Regular use of mouthwash containing alcohol
  • Significant sun exposure
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) diagnosis
  • A previous oral cancer diagnosis

If you believe you could be at an elevated risk of developing oral cancer, we encourage you to speak with one of our dentists about your concerns. 

When Is an Oral Cancer Screening Performed?

Oral cancer screenings can be performed anytime upon a patient's request. However, many dentists, including the team at Great Lakes Dental, provide routine oral cancer screenings during every patient's regular dental examination appointments. 

What to Expect During a Mouth Cancer Screening

Oral cancer screenings are quick, non-invasive, and painless to perform. Depending on the patient's individual needs, they can include any combination of the following screening methods:

Visual Examination

During a visual examination, a dentist inspects the patient's mouth and structures of the oral cavity for any visually apparent abnormalities such as discoloration (red and/or white patches) and sores.

Physical Examination

During this portion of an oral cancer screening, the dentist physically palpates the patient's soft tissues in and around the oral cavity and neck. The dentist feels the patient's soft tissues, looking for any abnormalities such as lumps, bumps, or textural changes. 

Oral Cancer X-Ray Screening

Some signs of oral cancer can also be detected on dental x-rays. Dental x-rays provide still images of a patient's internal structures in and around the oral cavity. These images can be used to detect potentially cancerous abnormalities that are not visible to the naked eye. 

Additionally, our office uses Pearl Artificial Intelligence software to help our professionals scan and evaluate x-ray images to improve our diagnostic capabilities. 

Dental x-rays are not usually taken at each appointment. However, when a patient needs them or has other concerns that require x-rays, we also use them to assist with oral cancer screening. 

Oral Cancer Screening Light

Another tool that can be used in oral cancer screening is a special type of light. Dentists can shine an oral cancer screening light into a patient's mouth during an examination. The light makes healthy tissue appear darker in color while lighting up potentially cancerous lesions and other abnormalities, making these spots easier for a dentist to identify. 

Intraoral Images for Dental Records

If any abnormalities are detected, the dentist will take a set of intraoral images to keep on file. These images enable us to better track changes and progressions in the abnormality at the patient's future examinations. 

What Happens After an Oral Cancer Screening?

After an oral cancer screening, the dentist makes note of their findings – whether normal or abnormal – and discusses these findings with the patient. If any abnormalities are detected, then the dentist is likely to recommend that the patient takes two actions:

Firstly, the dentist will request that you schedule a follow-up appointment. This appointment allows us to monitor the abnormality for changes and/or healing progress. 

Secondly, we might recommend taking a biopsy of the tissue to have it tested at a laboratory for signs of cancerous or precancerous cells. Depending on the patient's individual circumstances, a biopsy might be taken in our office or it might require the patient to schedule an appointment with their doctor or an oncologist. 

Routine Oral Cancer Screening Is Designed to Keep You Safe and Healthy

An oral cancer screening is simply a routine examination that is designed to help keep you as healthy and safe as possible. To learn more about oral cancer screening, we welcome you to schedule an appointment at Great Lakes Dental in Mentor Ohio.