Preventing oral cancer

By Dr. Sharon Robinson

Screenings are crucial in preventing oral cancer. A simple examination during a routine dental visit can make all the difference. Here is a step-by-step guide on all you need to know about oral screenings.

 Why You Should Screen:

The goal of oral cancer screening is to detect mouth cancer or precancerous lesions that may lead to mouth cancer at an early stage — when cancer or lesions are easiest to remove and most likely to be cured. People with a high risk of oral cancer may be more likely to benefit from screenings. Factors that can increase the risk of oral cancer include tobacco use of any kind, heavy alcohol use, a previous oral cancer diagnosis, HPV exposure and history of significant sun exposure (which increases the risk of lip cancer). Genetics and age (being 40 years and older) may also play a role.

The Screening:

During an exam, your dentist looks over the inside of your mouth to check for red or white patches or mouth sores. Using gloved hands, your dentist also feels the tissues in your mouth to check for lumps or other abnormalities. If you wear removable complete or partial dentures, your dentist will ask you to remove them to examine the tissue underneath.

Follow up:

If your dentist discovers any signs of mouth cancer or precancerous lesions, he or she may recommend:

A follow-up visit: in a few weeks to see if the abnormal area is still present and note whether it has grown or changed over time.

A biopsy procedure: to remove a cells for testing to determine whether cancer cells are present.

Toluidine blue stain: A procedure in which lesions in the mouth are coated with a blue dye. Areas that stain darker are more likely to be cancer or become cancer.

Fluorescence staining: A procedure in which lesions in the mouth are viewed using a special light. After the patient uses a fluorescent mouth rinse, normal tissue looks different from abnormal tissue when seen under the light.

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