Your dentist will commonly provide an oral cancer screening during your regular checkups to identify and manage diseases pertaining to the maxillofacial and oral regions. Should any issues be suspected, you may be referred to an oral surgeon for further diagnosis.
The soft tissue of the mouth is normally lined with mucosa, which is a special type of skin that should appear smooth in texture and pink in color. Any alteration of the color or texture of the mucosa may signal the beginning of a pathologic process. These changes may occur on the face, neck, and areas of the mouth (e.g., gums, tongue, lips, etc.). The most serious of these pathologic changes (which may or may not be painful) is oral cancer, but there are also many other common pathologic problems.
Common changes to the oral tissues
- Leukoplakia/Erythroplasia – Whitish/reddish patches in the mouth with possible causes including tobacco use, chronic cheek biting or ill-fitting dentures.
- Mucocele/Mucus Retention cyst – An obstructed salivary duct. The mucocele is a bluish translucent color, and is more commonly found in children and young adults, most commonly in the lower lip.
- Geographic Tongue – Also known as Benign Migratory Glossitis or Erythema Migrans, this is a condition where the tongue is missing papillae (small bumps) in different areas and a map-like appearance can develop. This condition is usually seen as red, well defined areas on or around the sides of the tongue. The red patches (which can look like an unsightly rash) may come and go from hours to months at a time and cause increased sensitivity to certain substances.
Treatment of Pathological Diseases
In the majority of cases, the pathological changes experienced in the oral region are uncomfortable and disfiguring, but not life threatening. However, oral cancer is on the rise (especially among men) and the chances of survival are around 80% if an immediate diagnosis is made.
Oral cancer is a general term used when referring to any type of cancer affecting the tongue, jaw, and lower cheek area. Since it is impossible for your dentist to decisively diagnose a pathological disease without taking a biopsy sample of the affected area, seeking immediate treatment when changes are first noticed might be a life and death decision. Biopsy of the affected area can be performed under local anesthesia. The tissue specimen is sent to an Oral Pathologist and a report sent to the surgeon who will go over the results with you and make recommendations for further care if necessary.
We recommend having an oral cancer screening or self-examination monthly. Do not ignore suspicious lumps or sores. If you are experiencing any pain or changes to your oral tissues that cause you concern, we encourage you to contact us today to schedule an appointment.