Oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth, lips, gums, upper throat, and tongue. Any tissue in the mouth or throat that develops cancer can be referred to as oral cancer. Dentists are often the first professionals to come into contact with oral cancer, as they conduct screenings during your regular exam that can help detect oral cancer early.
Dentists are also trained to spot signs of oral cancer that your primary care doctor or urgent care physician may not know to check for. How does a dentist check for oral cancer during your appointment? Here’s what you need to know!
A Screening Will Be Done During Your Exam
During your regular dental exam, your dentist will screen you for oral cancer. These screenings should happen annually starting at age 18 . People who use tobacco products are at higher risk for oral cancer, and should have screenings starting at the age of tobacco use or age 18, whichever comes sooner. Alcohol consumption and family history are two of the other major risk factors for oral cancer. However, people who don’t have any of these risk factors can still get oral cancer and still receive screenings by their dentist!
What Happens During the Screening?
An oral cancer screening is simple, painless, and only takes a few minutes. You won’t need a special appointment with your dentist to check for cancer, as it can happen during your regular checkup and cleaning at the office. During the screening, your dentist will feel your face and neck for any signs of lumps or sores .
Your dentist will also ask questions about any symptoms you may be experiencing, including trouble swallowing, having a hoarse voice, or experiencing unexplained numbness or bleeding in the oral cavity. You should inform your dentist if you’re experiencing any symptoms he or she did not ask about as well!
What Will My Dentist Be Looking for?
Your dentist is primarily looking for physical signs of oral cancer, but asking questions is an essential part of this process as well, as your dentist often can’t tell whether or not you’re experiencing numbness or other symptoms from a physical exam alone. Among lumps, your dentist will be checking for :
- Discolored patches in the mouth, such as red or white patches
- Sores that have no cause or appear unusual
- Difficulty moving your tongue
- Tenderness in your face, neck, or mouth
Should your dentist find anything of concern, he or she will let you know what the next steps are. Typically, if your dentist finds anything, they will collect cells uses a special tool and send them out for testing. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your dental practice!
When Was Your Last Oral Cancer Screening?
If it’s been more than a year since your last oral cancer screening, it’s time to contact your dentist. Early detection of oral cancer can minimize your treatment and even save your life. Call your dentist today to ask about an oral cancer screening during your regular exam!