The American public is generally aware of the fact that everyone should get a dental checkup every six months. Most people believe that these twice-yearly exams are beneficial for preventative teeth care and to find and fill new cavities before they cause major damage. However, many dental patients are unaware of the importance of an oral cancer screening that is typically part of a typical dental checkup. Although this type of screening may vary slightly among dental practitioners, several basic techniques are often used.
People who find an unusual sore or odd-looking bump in their mouth usually want the dentist to check it out. Sometimes the area of concern is nothing significant, possibly a temporary abrasion from biting the tongue accidentally or even a cold sore. A white or otherwise discolored sore place or bump, including one that is painless, should be checked by a dentist without waiting for the routine six-month checkup. If something needs to be treated, the sooner the better.
After listening to a patient describe problems in the mouth like pain, swelling, a bump, or discoloration, the dentist will likely do a visual exam to explore the area in question. Using an exam light and an identifying light such as our top-notch Identafi light, the mouth will be thoroughly examined, including under the tongue and behind the teeth, to check for the problem that the patient has described. If the area of concern cannot be found, possibly due to healing, the patient will be advised to continue monitoring the area and to return to the dentist if the sore or bump returns.
A third way that dentists may check for oral cancer is to use one or both hands to gently squeeze the inner cheeks, inside and outside, and to run their fingers over the cheek and jaw areas to feel for swelling or growths. Any suspicious nodules or areas will be further inspected visually and through biopsy, if needed.
If the dentist finds an area of concern and suspects oral cancer, a biopsy may be scheduled with a referred oral surgeon to check for cancer cells. If the biopsy reveals the presence of cancer or precancerous cells, surgery to remove the affected area may be discussed with the patient.
Oral cancer is a serious condition affecting thousands of people each year. Undetected and untreated, it can be fatal. Patients should ask for an oral cancer screening if their dentist does not automatically perform one during a regular checkup.