Early detection is one of the most essential components of successful cancer treatment, which is why a routine oral cancer screening should be a part of your routine dental checkup -- particularly if you have risk factors such as a history of cancer, have experienced significant exposure to UV rays, drink alcohol on a regular basis, or smoke or chew tobacco products. However, it's important to keep in mind that a dentist can't diagnose oral cancer during a regular examination -- he or she can only identify warning signs and refer you to a specialist for the purpose of having a biopsy performed and to begin a course of treatment if necessary. Here's what you need to know about routine oral cancer screenings.
It Starts With a General Medical Assessment
The first step in an oral cancer screening is for your dentist to obtain a comprehensive medical history and ask you about lifestyle habits for the purpose of determining your risk factor for developing oral cancer. During this initial phase, your dentist will explain the signs and symptoms of oral cancer and what you should be alert for, especially if you fall into a high-risk category. Your dentist will also listen to your voice carefully during this time because a raspy or hoarse tone may be an indication of a lesion in the area of the larynx.
The Next Step Is a Visual Examination
Your dentist will then perform a visual examination of the inside of your mouth and your lips, including your tongue, under your tongue, the back of your throat, the insides of your cheeks, and your gums. He or she will be looking for abnormalities such as red or white bumps, sores, and swollen areas.
The Next Step Is a Physical Examination
After putting on a pair of sterile gloves, your dentist will gently examine your oral cavity, you face, your neck, and your lymph node area with his or her hands for any underlying lumps, bumps, or other abnormalities. Be sure to alert your dentist if you have a latex allergy so non-latex gloves can be used. If your dentist notices possible signs of oral cancer, you'll be referred to a local oncology clinic for a biopsy. Keep in mind that oral cancer screenings have other benefits as well -- for instance, other conditions such as emerging gum disease are often discovered during a routine oral cancer screening.
Reach out to a dentist near you to learn more about dental care.