Dentists do see 3-5 patients who have soft tissue abnormalities which may be hard to determine if they are cancerous or benign just by looking. This is because the abnormalities such as herpes simplex, a wound after biting yourself, aphthous ulcers have the same similarities just like the cancerous lesion. It is advisable to see a dentist if you experience any discoloration, inflamed tissue, hoarseness, or irritation that doesn’t resolve within two weeks on its own with or without treatment.
Oral cancer screening is a procedure done by a dentist with the aim of looking for any sign of cancer or precancerous conditions in the mouth. The primary goal is to be able to detect mouth cancer early enough when there is the chance of a cure. The examination is done during a normal dental visit where the dentist will examine and do tests to help identify if there are any abnormal cells in the mouth. The dentist may also ask you if you have noticed any changes or haven any unusual symptoms.
Oral cancer can appear on the oropharynx i.e. the middle region of the throat, tonsil, and base of the tongue and at the oral cavity, i.e. cheeks, lips, inside of the lips, gums, teeth, and the front two-thirds of your tongue, roof and floor of the mouth. If it is early detected, then there is a chance of better treatment outcomes.
Oral screening doesn’t require any special preparation as it can be done during your regular visits. The dentist will start with a visual examination. This is the examination of the lips, inside of the nose, oral cavity, face, and neck. Here the dentist looks for any swellings, bumps, asymmetric, ulcerations, and patches of color either white (leukoplakia) or red (erythroplakia) or abnormalities. He will use a light and mirror to check the inside of the nose and mouth and to check at the back of the mouth; he will use a tongue depressor. The dentist will also check the tonsils, throat, underneath the tongue, the roof of the mouth, gums and inner cheeks.
Next is the physical exam where the dentist will touch under the chin, cheek, and the head, around the jaw and in the oral cavity so as to feel if there are any masses or nodules. If there are any mobile tissues, the dentist may ask if it is uncomfortable or painful.
If there are no abnormalities found on the mouth, then the patient is given another visit date. If something abnormal is noted, the patient is referred for further tests. A biopsy procedure is done, and this involves the removal of cells or uses a cytological smear, and they are taken to a lab to determine if there are any cancer cells present. It is the work of the dentist to reassure the patient that the results may come back as benign or cancerous and no matter the results, there is treatment.
Oral cancer screening should be done after every six months, but it can be done before then if you notice anything abnormal.