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What To Expect During Your First Oral Cancer Screening

Oral cancer can affect individuals of any age and background. The American cancer society predicts that almost 50,000 people will receive an oral cancer diagnosis in 2017.

Luckily, the survival rate for individuals with oral cancer has risen steadily for over three decades. Part of the reason for this lowered mortality rate is the prevalence of oral cancer screenings that allow patients to get treatment while the cancer is in the early stages.

Many dentists integrate these screenings into normal dental examinations and cleanings, especially for patients who are over 40 years of age, have a history or smoking, or exhibit other common oral cancer risk factors.

In this blog, we guide you through what you can expect the first time you receive a screening.
Discussion of Symptoms
In addition to learning more about your overall medical history, your dentist may ask you some specific questions intended to determine whether you are already experiencing symptoms of oral cancer.
Your dentist may ask if:
  • You frequently lose your voice or become hoarse over long periods of time
  • You have a history of persistent or recurrent earaches, especially those that affect only one ear
  • You have noticed any changes to the way you speak, swallow, or move your tongue
  • You have noticed physical symptoms that point to oral cancer, such as small bumps on the neck that have little to no sensation
  • You have symptoms associated with human papillomavirus (HPV)
None of these individual symptoms by itself necessarily indicates the presence of cancer, but your answers can provide your dentist with important diagnostic information.
In most cases, preparation for a screening simply involves removing any dental appliances that you wear. If you have dentures, a removable bridge, or a removable tooth implant, your dentist may ask you to take it out and place it in a sterile dish for the duration of the screening.

This step simply enables your dentist to see more of your mouth without the visual obstruction of dental appliances.
Visual Examination
Once you're ready for the screening to begin, your dentist will examine your mouth and nose for any visible signs of potentially cancerous growth. Your dentist may perform this exam with you sitting up in a chair or with you reclined. If you feel discomfort in your dentist's chosen position let him or her know.

During the visual exam your dentist will use an overhead or handheld light and a handheld mirror. The exam will include the inside of your nose, your gums and tonsils, your cheeks, your palate, and the area underneath your tongue.

Your dentist will specifically look for:
  • Areas of abnormal asymmetry
  • Bumps, sores, or swelling
  • Tissue discoloration
  • Ulcerations
If your dentist notices any signs of concern, he or she will use a painless swab to collect tissue cells for testing.
Specialized Tests
Your dentist may use specialized testing equipment to make the visual examination faster or easier. For example, some dentists have patients rinse with a dental dye before the exam in order to make abnormal tissue easier to spot.

Your dentist may also use other tools like a tongue depressor, fiber optic camera, or blue light to ensure that he or she can see every part of your mouth.
Physical Examination
After the visual examination is complete, your dentist will use gloves to feel for any abnormalities that may not be visible. Your dentist will touch your:
  • Cheeks
  • Inside of the mouth
  • Jaw and area under the chin
  • Throat
Your dentist may ask you if any amount of pressure feels painful or if you have difficulty moving a particular body part, like your jaw.

Discuss your medical and dental history with the staff at Steven Devins, DDS. They can help you decide when to have your first oral cancer screening and how often you should have schedule screenings to protect yourself in the future.