Everything You Need to Know About Oral Cancer Screenings

a patient visiting their dentist for an oral cancer screening

Every year, an estimated 54,000 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed—and believe it or not, several thousand more cases remain completely undetected. If this seems shocking and alarming to you, you’re right to feel this way! But fortunately, oral cancer is actually among the most preventable types of cancer, and with the help of your dentist coupled with your willingness to remain vigilant, you can actively prevent it from threatening your well-being. Keep reading to learn more about how your dentist helps to keep your smile safe by conducting oral cancer screenings during your routine checkups and cleanings.

The Purpose of an Oral Cancer Screening

Generally speaking, an oral cancer screening is an examination performed by a dentist to scope out any signs of cancer or precancerous conditions inside your mouth. The objective is quite simple; to identify oral cancer early on when there’s a much greater chance for a cure! These screenings are performed during routine dental visits; in addition to a physical examination, some dentists might use additional tests and special equipment, including screening dyes and lights, to aid in the identification of abnormal cells in your mouth.

While no single oral cancer screening is proven to completely reduce the risk of cancer, people with a higher risk of the disease can certainly benefit from it. Some of these risk factors include patients who smoke or use tobacco, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, or have a history of significant sun exposure, as well as those with previous cancer diagnoses.

What to Expect During an Oral Cancer Screening

Oral cancer screenings usually consist of two separate parts: the visual examination, and the physical examination. Your dentist will examine the inside of your mouth, but also your face, neck, lips, and even nose; they must check every possible area that may be prone to oral cancer! Wielding various tools such as a small mirror and light, they’ll be looking primarily for asymmetries, including any swelling, bumps, white patches, lumps, or sores. They will also use a tongue depressor to examine the back of the throat.

Additionally, they will physically examine your mouth; they’ll feel your head and cheeks around the jaw, under your chin, and inside your oral cavity to scope out anything out of the ordinary. A VELscope, which is a special screening device, can also be used to identify precancerous cells that are invisible to the naked eye. If your dentist finds any concerning abnormalities during your oral cancer screening, they’ll take a sample that will be sent to a lap for a biopsy.

When it comes to oral cancer, early detection is crucial in saving lives—and these screenings are the secret! If you have a family history of oral cancer or believe you’re subject to any of the associated risk factors, you shouldn’t hesitate to schedule your next dental visit and undergo an oral cancer screening; the disease is quite deadly and not something you’ll want to suffer through!

About the Practice

Dr. Ellis Shwarts and his skilled team have proudly served the dental needs of patients and families in the Richardson, TX community for several years! A Dallas native, Dr. Shwarts received his dental degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and has spent countless hours educating himself and honing his skills so that he can provide a truly unmatched level of care. The practice offers a comprehensive range of preventive, cosmetic, and restorative treatment options. If you have any questions about the article or would like to schedule your next visit, feel free to contact the practice online or over the phone for further assistance: (972) 525-9283.