A recent study conducted by the American Cancer Society found that more than 30,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year, with over 7,000 of these cases resulting in the death of the patient.  The good news, though, is that oral cancer can easily be diagnosed with an annual oral cancer exam, and effectively treated when caught in its earliest stages.

Oral cancer begins with a stage during which the patient does not notice any pain or obvious symptoms.  This makes the oral cancer examinations performed by the dentist during the dental examination critically important. The most common type of oral cancer is the malignant squamous cell carcinoma, usually originating in the lip or mouth tissues.  The most common areas for these to develop are the side of the tongue and the floor of the mouth,

Places in the oral cavity and maxillofacial region in which oral cancers can occur include:

  • Lips

  • Mouth

  • Tongue

  • Salivary Glands

  • Throat

  • Gums

  • Face

Why are oral cancer examinations so important?

Please note that roughly 75% of oral cancers are linked to modifiable behaviors such as smoking, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption.  Your dentist can provide literature and education on making lifestyle changes and smoking cessation.

When oral cancer is caught in its earliest stages, treatment is generally quite effective.  Most noticeable abnormalities in the tongue, gums, mouth or surrounding area should be evaluated by a health professional as quickly as possible.  During an oral cancer exam, the dentist and dental hygienist will be closely examining the maxillofacial and oral regions carefully for signs of pathologic changes.

The following signs are investigated during a routine oral cancer exam:

  • Red patches and sores – Red patches on the floor of the mouth, the front and sides of the tongue, white or pink patches which fail to heal and slow healing sores that bleed easily can be indicative of pathologic (cancerous) changes.

  • Leukoplakia – This is a hardened white or gray, slightly raised lesion that can appear anywhere inside the mouth. Leukoplakia can be cancerous, or may become cancerous if treatment is not sought.

  • Lumps – Soreness, lumps or the general thickening of tissue anywhere in the throat or mouth can signal pathological problems.

Oral cancer exams, diagnosis and treatment

An oral cancer examination is an entirely painless process.  During the visual part of the examination, the dentist looks for abnormalities and feel the face, glands and neck for unusual bumps.

If abnormalities, lesions, leukoplakia or lumps are apparent, the dentist will then implement a diagnostic treatment plan.  In the event that the initial treatment plan is not effective, a biopsy of the area will be performed.  The biopsy includes a clinical evaluation which identifies the precise stage and grade of the oral lesion.

Malignant types of cancer can quickly spread to other places in the oral and maxillofacial regions, posing additional threats.  Treatment methods vary tremendously according to the precise diagnosis. More in depth treatments may include excision, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

If you have any questions or concerns about oral cancer, please contact our practice.


Contact Us

We encourage you to contact us with any questions or comments you may have. Please call our office or use the quick contact form below.