Oral Cancer Screening
An oral cancer screening is a visual and physical examination of the nose, mouth, throat, and connected oral cavities. This is done to check for the presence of cancerous or precancerous cells and other irregularities, which sometimes do not manifest as visible symptoms. For this reason, regular oral cancer screenings conducted by a medical professional are an essential component of maintaining your overall health. Our Encinitas dentists—Dr. Cathy Santone and Dr. Megan Dietz—can perform an oral cancer screening during your semi-annual oral exam or cleaning to catch any potential signs of the disease in their early stages and help ensure you have a healthy mouth to complement your beautiful smile.
Am I At Risk for Oral Cancer?
Every person should undergo preventative oral cancer screenings, but the risk of developing oral cancer is usually much higher if you use tobacco products or consume alcohol. Age can also play a factor, as adults over age 45 are typically at a higher risk of contracting oral cancer. That said, the disease can affect patients of any age. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is also being found in more and more cases of oral cancer. Other factors that can make you more vulnerable to oral cancer include:
- Unprotected sun exposure
- Poor oral hygiene
- Poor diet or a lack of nutrition
- Use of marijuana, vaporizer pens, or E-cigarettes
- Weakened immune system
It’s very important to have oral cancer screenings at least once per year, and twice a year for those who may face a higher risk of oral cancer. We find that the most convenient way for patients to obtain regular screenings is to simply incorporate an oral cancer evaluation into their semi-annual dental visit. These examinations typically take no more than ten minutes, and can potentially allow patients to identify symptoms of the disease while in its early stages.
What are the Symptoms of Oral Cancer?
Many symptoms of oral cancer are apparent, often presenting as white lesions or ulcers, but other signs of the disease may not be readily visible. In general, any of the following can indicate the presence of cancerous or precancerous cells:
- Sores in the mouth or on the lips that do not heal
- A red or white lesion on the gums, tonsils, tongue, or lining of the mouth
- Lumps or bumps on the soft tissues of the mouth
- Coughing and sore throat
- The feeling that something is stuck in the throat
- Unexplained bleeding or pain
- Numbness in the tongue or mouth
- Hoarseness, or a change in your voice
- Difficulty with oral functions (swallowing, chewing, etc.)
- Chronic bad breath
Some of the above symptoms may signify an infection or condition other than oral cancer, highlighting the importance of a comprehensive screening to obtain an accurate diagnosis.
How is an Oral Cancer Screening Performed?
Oral cancer screenings at our family dentistry practice involve a visual exam as well as a physical assessment. The entire screening typically lasts about two minutes and is completely painless. First, we will look inside the nose and mouth for any swelling, lumps, ulcerations, patches of irregular color, lesions, and other abnormalities. We will thoroughly examine the back of your throat and tonsils for any potential symptoms as well. You may be asked to swallow while the throat is being assessed so your dentist can see any irregularities. Your dentist may also physically check the throat, neck, cheeks, and jawline to feel for any unusual masses or areas that are painful, or numb, to the touch. State-of-the-art VELscope® dental technology will also be used to guide your screening, which can allow our dentists to see abnormalities that may not be evident to the naked eye.
VELscope® Oral Cancer Screening System
At Encinitas Cosmetic Dentistry, we utilize advanced VELscope® Vx Oral Cancer Screening technology. VELscope® can help to identify potentially cancerous areas that can sometimes be missed in routine exams. Using a blue light to activate the natural fluorescence present in oral soft tissues, VELscope® helps our dental professionals see cancerous cells that are not visible to the naked eye. This invaluable tool can make it possible to locate dangerous growths in the early stages, and early detection is crucial to increase the chances of successful treatment.
Questions? Our friendly dental team is here to help. If you have any questions or concerns about oral cancer, or if you would like to schedule your screening with your regular dental appointment, please contact our practice today.