During a regular, 6-month dental exam, an oral cancer screening is performed. The goal of an oral cancer screening is to identify mouth cancer early when there is a greater chance for a cure. The dentist will ask you about changes in your medical history and whether you’ve been having any new or unusual symptoms. During a dental exam, the doctor will check your neck and oral tissues for lumps, red or white patches or recurring sore areas.

Oral cancer generally forms in two areas. One place is in the oral cavity including the lips, inside of the lips and cheeks, teeth, gums, the front two-thirds of the tongue and both the floor and roof of the mouth. Second is in the oropharynx or middle region of the throat, including the tonsils and base of the tongue. The dentist will examine the oral cavity and as well as the throat and roof of the mouth, including the tonsils, the back section of the tongue and where the tongue attaches to the bottom of the mouth. The dentist will then feel the jaw and neck for any lumps or abnormalities.

Remember, an oral cancer screening is precautionary, not diagnostic. Sometimes a doctor or dentist refers a patient for further tests to get to the bottom of a certain symptom. However, results that require further investigation are not necessarily a cancer diagnosis.

Additionally, it’s important to be aware of the following signs and symptoms. A dental visit should be arranged if they do not disappear after two weeks. Patients need to be aware of any changes that they notice or feel in their mouths and inform dental hygienists if they notice something that is not healing or lasting longer than a two-week period.

  • A sore or irritation that doesn’t go away
  • Red or white patches
  • Pain, tenderness or numbness in mouth or lips
  • A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth

Men are twice more likely to get oral cancer than women. Smokers and excessive alcohol drinkers older than 50 are the most at-risk. Regardless of age or gender, behaviors of smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or poor diet are all detrimental to one’s health especially when it comes to oral cancer. 

Some other things to look out for when it comes to oral cancer is sun exposure. This can potentially lead to cancer of the lips if not protected.The STD HPV (human papillomavirus) has been linked to a subset of oral cancers at any age. Most times, people don’t even know they carry the virus. Staying on top of the state of the rest of your body will help to keep you healthy.

Oral cancer screenings should be done every six months. Prevention is the best remedy. Regularly maintaining a dental hygiene routine and visiting the dentist every 6 months is necessary. If you do smoke or drink, of course cutting out or at least down these habits will also be a crucial factor.