Almost 50,000 people will be diagnosed with oral cancer in the U.S. in 2017, and almost 10,000 people will die from it. It’s vital to your health and well-being to closely monitor your oral health, as a fast diagnosis can make all the difference for your prognosis.
But how is oral cancer diagnosed? Does it show up on your regular dental X-rays? Is this screening test enough to ensure your mouth is healthy and cancer-free?
It Starts with Regular Dental Checkups
If you aren’t seeing a dentist once every six months, it’s time to start. Without the care of a dentist, there is no way to tell if your oral health is declining.
At a regular dental checkup, the dentist is focused mostly on your teeth, but they examine your mouth as well, checking for unusual white or red patches, or any other indication that anything is not well.
They also take dental X-rays periodically, which reveal if there is anything to be concerned about in your mouth. If your dentist suspects cancer, they are quick to refer you to an outside specialist, such as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
You’ll See a Specialist
An oral surgeon has the training and knowledge to accurately identify and diagnose oral cancer. They look for swelling and enlargements of the tissues and changes in the surfaces. If teeth are loose even though no trauma occurred or the patient experiences unusual oral bleeding, the surgeon knows what to do next.
X-Rays, CT Scans, MRIs Help Reveal Problem Areas
Further testing is the next step when oral cancer is suspected. Through additional X-rays, CT scans and MRIs, your medical team will assess the area and determine the extent of the affected tissues. While X-rays alone won’t lead to a diagnosis, their results are used in conjunction with additional tests to inform the treatment team.
Biopsies Are the Final Word
No oral cancer diagnosis is final without a biopsy. Your oral surgeon will schedule a procedure to obtain a cell sample, whether through scraping the surface of a lesion or removing the growth, if it’s a cyst or tumor.
When Should You Talk to Your Doctor?
Discuss concerns with your doctor, dentist or oral surgeon when you notice any of the following suspicious symptoms:
- Mouth sores that don’t heal
- Thick patches of skin on the inside of your cheek
- Constant sore throat
- Trouble swallowing or chewing
- Any numbness in the mouth
Northeast Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery can help you explore the underlying causes of these symptoms. Is oral cancer a concern for you? Make an appointment and we can help you take the next step and take charge of your health.