What Is an Oral Cancer Screening?
An oral cancer screening is an exam performed by a dentist to look for signs of cancer or precancerous characteristics in your mouth. The process is quick and painless, allowing dentists to complete it in under five minutes during your regular check-up.
Dental exams and check-ups should generally take place every six months — or twice a year. This allows dentists like Dr. Alice Bassford to protect patients from oral infections and serious complications. In many cases, dentists squeeze in an oral cancer screening for preventative measures.
Multiple factors may increase your risk of oral cancer, including:
- Excessive tobacco use
- Regular alcohol consumption
- History of oral cancer
- Spending too much time in the sun
Visiting the dentist is more than maintaining a healthy smile — it can save lives. Learn why you should get an oral cancer screening and what to expect from the exam.
Why The Screenings Are Done
The purpose of an oral cancer screening is to detect cancer or premalignant lesions before they ultimately lead to mouth cancer. When caught at an early stage, cancer and lesions are easier to remove and there’s a higher chance of rehabilitation.
Otherwise, the five-year survival rate of those diagnosed is about 60 percent. If that’s not convincing enough, here are three major reasons to get an oral cancer screening:
- It’s easy — experienced dentists like Dr. Daniels-Dixon can check for signs during your regular exam in just a few minutes
- It’s affordable — there’s no extra expense when performed during your routine check-up
- It’s better to be safe — when it’s this simple and accessible, why not?
And most importantly, a simple oral exam can save your life. The oral cancer survival rate may increase when detected and treated early.
What to Expect
During your regular check-up, most dentists like Dr. Susan Fredericks are likely to give you an elementary oral exam by thoroughly looking at your entire mouth.
Your dentist will examine your lips, gums, tongue, insides of your cheeks, the roof of your mouth, and the back of your throat. Using sterile gloves, they’ll check for red or white lesions or mouth sores, along with any lumps or abnormalities.
In a few cases, some dentists may use additional tests during the exam such as oral cancer screening dye or oral cancer screening light. Using a special blue dye can make abnormal cells in the mouth appear blue and easier to detect. Similarly, a specialized light can make healthy tissue look dark and abnormal tissue appear white.
What You Can Do After
If nothing abnormal appears during your exam, then you’re in the clear for the time being. It’s recommended to have an oral cancer screening performed once a year to be safe.
However, if your dentist discovers anything unusual, they may make two recommendations:
- Schedule a follow-up appointment to see if the abnormality is still present or if anything has changed over time.
- Have a biopsy procedure to remove a small piece of tissue for testing to determine whether cancerous cells are present.
It’s essential to have annual oral exams because catching them early means more treatment options and a higher rate of survival. So the next time you have a routine check-up, mention an oral cancer screening. Regarding your well-being, it’s better to be safe than suffer the consequences.