Ask The Warrior Dentist: How Can My Dentist Spot Oral Cancer?Ask The Warrior Dentist: How Can My Dentist Spot Oral Cancer?

Whenever you go to your dentist for a checkup, regardless of what else the dentist may do during your visit, he or she will always be on the lookout for any signs of trouble regarding your oral health. One thing that dentists and dental hygienists are vigilant about is spotting anything that might indicate the presence of oral cancer, and your dentist will take special note if he or she happens to see any telltale signs such as white colored lesions or sores in and around the mouth.

Places a dentist will check for unusual looking conditions include behind the lips, where oral cancer is sometimes seen as a sore or part of the tissue that is discolored.

Cancer may also show up as a bump or lump. On the inside of the cheek is another place to look for any symptoms such as dark colored tissue - or whitish spots - plus any tears, lumps, or areas of soreness or tenderness when touched. Changing the angle of your head and directing light into your mouth the dentist can also examine the roof of your mouth for similar signs, and he or she can also use fingers to press and feel for any bumps. A thorough examination for oral cancer will also include a good check of the tongue, as well as underneath the tongue on the floor of the mouth. Sometimes complaints from a patient about lumps or soreness around the mouth - like in the neck area - can also prompt a dentist or doctor to examine those adjacent areas.

It could be that these sores are nothing more than a simple condition due to an abrasion or due to some rather harmless infection, and they may go away by themselves within a short period of time. But if a sore place or growth in the mouth appears to be cancerous, the dentist can take additional steps to examine it. When a growth shows up in the mouth that could be cancerous, for example, the dentist may decide to do a biopsy. This involves taking a tiny sample of the tissue that looks suspicious through a simple surgical procedure so that it can be sent to a medical lab for more scrutiny to determine whether there is any cause for concern and further investigation.

Oral cancer attacks thousands of people each year and even if you have otherwise good health, the potential still exists for an oral cancer outbreak. But if you are a smoker - especially if you use chewing tobacco of any type - your dentist may warn you of your increased risk of oral cancer, because the habitual use of tobacco products is often a leading cause of mouth and throat cancer.

Follow your dentist's recommended routine for caring for your teeth and keep your regularly scheduled dentist appointments and you should have nothing to worry about. Your dentist can keep a watchful eye on your oral hygiene to spot any potentially emerging cancer. Should you notice anything unusual, however, contact your dentist immediately so that he or she can check it out, treat it if needed, and reassure you by restoring your oral health to normal.
by Dr. Susan Wells
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Dr. Susan Wells DMD has been a warrior dentist practicing dentistry in Warrior, Alabama since 1978.  She treats patients for all aspects of general dentistry including preventive dental care oral hygiene instruction and full scale exams and cleanings. To find out more visit her site at
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